Anyone who has ever had a canker sore knows just how uncomfortable an ulcer can be. These painful, slow-healing sores can appear anywhere on your body, from your mouth to your skin to the lining of your stomach. And while they sometimes disappear on their own, the underlying cause of an ulcer can impact its symptoms, complications, and the recommended treatment.

Here are the five most common types of ulcers, and what you should do to treat them:

Peptic Ulcers

Peptic ulcers are the most common type of ulcer, and they develop in the lining of the stomach and in the upper small intestine. They’re caused by an infection in the stomach from a bacteria called H. plyori and by long-term use of ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. Contrary to popular belief, spicy foods and stress do not cause peptic ulcers, but they can exacerbate symptoms. Stomach pain is the most frequently experienced symptom among patients diagnosed with a peptic ulcer, although many people have no symptoms at all. To detect this type of ulcer, your doctor will order lab tests, an endoscopy, or an X-ray. Following a diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for treatment based on the cause of the ulcer.

Venous Ulcers

A venous ulcer – commonly referred to as an “open sore” – occurs when blood fails to circulate correctly. As blood backs up (usually in the legs), pressure increases and can cause an open sore. If you experience this type of ulcer, make an appointment with your doctor so they can show you how to properly care for the wound while it heals. You’ll need to relieve the pressure that caused the ulcer and may be given a compression stocking to help with that. Exercise, medicine, and propping up your feet may also be suggested while the wound heals.

Ischemic Ulcers

Arterial (ischemic) ulcers are also caused by improper blood flow to your legs, but in this case, the reduction in blood flow causes cells to die and a wound to form. Clogged arteries are a common cause of these ulcers, and being diabetic, or having other diseases that impact blood flow, can increase your risk. Treatment for this type of ulcer is similar to an open sore, which includes wound care and taking medicine. In some circumstances, surgery may be required to restore blood flow to the affected area.

Mouth Ulcers

This type of ulcer has many causes, ranging from canker sores to oral cancer. Canker sores are the most common cause of mouth ulcers and can be triggered by stress, food allergies, a lack of minerals and vitamins, or changes to your hormones. Treatment for a mouth ulcer usually begins with proper oral hygiene, avoiding hot or spicy foods, and using over-the-counter topical creams to treat pain. If the ulcer does not improve on its own, a health care provider may prescribe other medications, such as an oral steroid, to treat them. Blood tests and a biopsy may be ordered if the doctor suspects the ulcer is being caused by a more serious condition.

Genital Ulcers

Genital ulcers are sores that develop on the genitals. Like mouth ulcers, there are a number of underlying causes, including sexually transmitted infections (STI). Viral infections or other diseases may also cause genital ulcers. Symptoms typically include bumps, rash, itching, and pain in the affected area. A fever can also be a symptom of genital ulcers. The course of treatment depends on the underlying cause. Sometimes, genital ulcers will heal on their own. If they’re caused by an STI, your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of an ulcer, it’s always a good idea to visit a health care provider to determine the appropriate course of treatment.


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