Peptic Ulcers in Children

What is a peptic ulcer?

A peptic ulcer is an open sore in the lining of the stomach or the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). When a peptic ulcer is located in the stomach, it’s known as a gastric ulcer, and when it’s located in the duodenum it’s called a duodenal ulcer.

Although peptic ulcers are far more common in adults, children of any age can develop these ulcers, and without proper treatment, they may experience serious complications, including:

  • Bleeding: As the lining of the stomach or duodenal wall is eroded, blood vessels may also be damaged, causing bleeding.
  • Perforation: Sometimes a hole has worn through the wall of the stomach or duodenum, and bacteria and partially digested food can spill through the opening into the sterile abdominal cavity (peritoneum).
  • Narrowing and obstruction: Ulcers located at the end of the stomach (where the duodenum is attached) can cause swelling and scarring, which can narrow or close the intestinal opening.

What are the symptoms of peptic ulcers?

Although ulcers don't always cause symptoms, the most common sign is a gnawing or burning pain in the abdomen between the breastbone and the navel. The pain often occurs between meals and in the early morning. It may last from a few minutes to a few hours. Less common peptic ulcer symptoms include:

  • belching
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • poor appetite
  • loss of weight
  • feeling tired and weak

What causes peptic ulcers?

In the past, lifestyle factors, such as stress and diet, were believed to cause ulcers. More recently, research has shown that stomach acids contribute to ulcers. Research also shows that ulcers can develop as a result of an infection caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). While all of these factors play a role in the reason your child may have an ulcer, H. pylori is most likely to be the cause.

Other contributing factors may include physical stress and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium that make the stomach vulnerable to the harmful effects of the digestive fluids hydrochloric acid and pepsin.

How we care for peptic ulcers

The Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Boston Children's Hospital cares for infants, children, and young adults with gastrointestinal conditions like peptic ulcers. We provide the most comprehensive and leading-edge endoscopic services in the country for the care and treatment of peptic ulcers.