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Peptic Ulcer in Children

By William J. Cochran, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Pediatrics;Associate, Department of Pediatrics GI and Nutrition, Temple University School of Medicine;Geisinger Clinic, Danville, PA

A peptic ulcer is erosion of the lining of the stomach or small intestine (duodenum) due to excess stomach acid, breakdown of the stomach’s protective lining, or both.

Peptic ulcers are much less common among children than adults. As with adults, use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria can lead to the formation of peptic ulcers (see Peptic Ulcer Disease). Children whose parents have peptic ulcers are more likely to have ulcers, as are those whose parents smoke. Adolescents who drink alcohol or smoke are also more likely to develop ulcers. Children of any age can develop ulcers when they are extremely sick, such as after severe burns, injuries, and illnesses. These ulcers are referred to as stress ulcers.

Infants with ulcers may be fussy and irritable during and after feedings. Ulcers in older children usually cause abdominal pain. At any age, peptic ulcers can tear (perforate), bleed, or lead to blockage (obstruction). The diagnosis and treatment of peptic ulcers and their complications are the same for children and adults (see Peptic Ulcer Disease).

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