peptic ulcer complications

Major Complications of Peptic Ulcers

Peptic ulcers can be found in millions of Americans, many of whom suffer daily from the pain associated with them. In my many years as a nurse, I’ve been through the different wards and specialty care areas in the hospital. I have seen simple illnesses turn into life threatening situations. Minor illnesses even coughs and fevers can turn into severe medical conditions. Early detection of diseases improves the chances of a patient fully recovering from the illness. Treating peptic ulcers is simple and manageable. Complications of ulcers are easily avoided when treated or detected early.

Gastrointestinal Bleeding

One of the major dangers or complications of peptic ulcer disease is gastrointestinal bleeding. Symptoms of gastrointestinal bleeding are hematemesis (vomiting of blood), melena (black tarry stools) and hematochezia (bright colored blood in stools).

A normal healthy person can lose 10 to 15 percent of his blood volume without negative health effects. People who go for blood donations loose 8 to 10 percent of their blood. Blood loss of more than 15 percent is dangerous. A loss of more than 40 percent is critical and life threatening.


Another danger of untreated peptic ulcers is perforation. Perforation occurs when ulcers eat through the tissues of the digestive tract and spill to the abdominal cavity. Symptoms perforated ulcers are sudden, sharp and severe pain in the abdominal area. Peritonitis or infection of the peritoneal cavity (lining of the abdomen) happens when gastric content like bacteria enters the abdominal cavity. Hospitalization and surgery is indicated for immediate treatment.


Peptic ulcers if left untreated may cause massive tissue damage and leave a hole in the digestive tract. Peritonitis or perforation occurs when gastric contents are spilled in the stomach. In rare cases, ulcers may create an abnormal opening or connection between two organs. A fistula is a medical term meaning a structure which connects two organs. Corrective surgery is done to remove the abnormal opening between the organs.

Gastric Outlet Obstruction

Ulcers may cause scarring and swelling in the digestive tract. Untreated peptic ulcers lead to excessive scarring which causes narrowing or closing in the opening between the stomach and the small intestine. Symptoms for people suffering from gastric outlet obstruction include severe vomiting.

Advancements in medical science have provided doctors newer and faster ways of detecting diseases at their early stage. It was not long ago when lifestyle habits and eating specific foods where believed to be the major causes of peptic ulcers. Peptic ulcers when detected early can be cured with little medical supervision. With the rising cost of healthcare avoiding complications is not just critical but practical.

written by Ronald Uy, RN

© 2009 Hemorrhoid Information Center


Complications of peptic ulcers. Retrieved Aug 24, 2009 from NHS UK:

Peptic ulcer. Retrieved Aug 24, 2009 from

Complications of Peptic Ulcer. Retrieved Aug 24, 2009 from GERD/ Heartburn:


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