Peptic Ulcer Diagnosis

Peptic ulcers form in the inner lining of the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum of the small intestine. Peptic ulcers can occur when too much acid is produced in the stomach or if the protective gastric mucous layer is eroded due to irritation or inflammation.

Image Credit: Tefi /

Patients with peptic ulcers typically feel a burning pain in their abdomen or may experience nausea, vomiting, weight loss, or loss of appetite. It is important to properly diagnose and treat peptic ulcers, as untreated ulcers can result in complications such as internal bleeding. If left untreated, this internal bleeding can develop into anemia or severe loss of blood, scar tissues that can block the passage of food, as well as peritonitis, which is an infection of the abdominal cavity.

Helicobacter pylori tests

The number one cause of peptic ulcers is infection with the Helicobacter pylori bacteria. H. pylori is a spiral-shaped bacterium that embeds in the mucous layer of the stomach and small intestine, causing irritation and inflammation of the inner lining of gastric cells. A clinician who suspects a diagnosis of peptic ulcers after performing a medical exam may order an H. pylori test.  This test measures the presence or absence of the H. pylori bacteria in a patient’s body and can be taken in a number of ways.

In the stool antigen test, the presence of H. pylori is determined by measuring the number of bacterial antigens, which are fragments of proteins, in a patient’s feces. Antibodies to H. pylori can also be measured in a patient’s blood. However, the presence of antibodies only detects exposure, which could indicate a current or previous bacterial infection.

The presence of H. pylori can also be detected by a breath test. To perform the breath test, a patient ingests a radioactive form of carbon. If the bacteria are present, the patient will exhale radiolabeled carbon dioxide. This conversion occurs because of the high levels of urea produced by the H. pylori bacteria.

H. pylori tests are quick and non-invasive, making them more common than other more invasive diagnostic tests. The presence of H. pylori, combined with corresponding patient symptoms, typically indicates the presence of a peptic ulcer. H. pylori infection can be treated with antibiotics.

Endoscopic tests

For some patients, such as those who are older or are experiencing severe pain or bleeding, a clinician may order an upper gastrointestinal endoscopic exam, called esophago-gastro-duodenoscopy (EGD). The endoscope is a thin, flexible tube with an attached lighted camera that is inserted in the mouth and passed down through the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. An EGD allows the doctor to visualize these areas and look for ulcers.

Upper GI Endoscopy, EGD - PreOp Surgery Patient Education - Engagement

If an ulcerated region is detected, a small biopsy can be taken for further analysis. The biopsied tissue can be examined for the presence of H. pylori by examination under a microscope, conducting a chemical urease test, or through a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which detects the bacteria’s genetic material.

Peptic ulcers can also be detected by a series of X-rays, called an upper gastrointestinal (GI) series.  The patient ingests a white, chalky, barium-containing liquid to coat the stomach and duodenum, making ulcers more easily detectable in the x-ray.  However, this method is less often used because of the improved visibility and potential to immediately biopsy suspected lesions during an EGD.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Susan Chow

Written by

Susan Chow

Susan holds a Ph.D in cell and molecular biology from Dartmouth College in the United States and is also a certified editor in the life sciences (ELS). She worked in a diabetes research lab for many years before becoming a medical and scientific writer. Susan loves to write about all aspects of science and medicine but is particularly passionate about sharing advances in cancer therapies. Outside of work, Susan enjoys reading, spending time at the lake, and watching her sons play sports.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Chow, Susan. (2022, September 02). Peptic Ulcer Diagnosis. News-Medical. Retrieved on July 23, 2024 from

  • MLA

    Chow, Susan. "Peptic Ulcer Diagnosis". News-Medical. 23 July 2024. <>.

  • Chicago

    Chow, Susan. "Peptic Ulcer Diagnosis". News-Medical. (accessed July 23, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Chow, Susan. 2022. Peptic Ulcer Diagnosis. News-Medical, viewed 23 July 2024,


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.