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Hectic work schedules, caffeine and spicy foods may have unwanted side effects -- but ulcers are not one of them.

Surprised?

Well, you may also want to know that the majority of ulcers can be easily treated and often cured.

"It's bugs or drugs, not stress or diet, that cause most ulcers," says Dr. Michael Kimmey, University of Washington associate professor of medicine and director of the Gastrointestinal Endoscopy Service at UW Medical Center. "Many people who suffer from these ulcers don't know they can be cured."

More than 25 million Americans are affected by ulcers, an ailment many view as a come-and-go nuisance that must simply be endured. Peptic ulcers are irritations or sores in the lining of the stomach or the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. They can be caused by anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, or, rarely by tumors that lead to excessive stomach acid.

Yet the majority of ulcers are caused by "bugs": the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). This bacteria is found in the stomach and is present in more than 90 percent of peptic ulcer patients. These types of ulcers can be treated, and usually cured, with common antibiotics.

"In the past, many patients with ulcers stayed on acid-reducing medications for the rest of their lives," Kimmey says. "Now, people diagnosed early can be treated once and be finished with it."

To seek treatment, a person must first know the warning signs of ulcers. Common ulcer symptoms include an aching or burning pain in the upper part of the abdomen. This pain may often go way after eating or taking antacids and may cause a person to wake up at night. If the ulcer begins to bleed, a person may also throw up blood. Kimmey advises anyone suffering persistent, frequent stomach pains that do not get better to see their doctor.

"Knowing the truth about symptoms and treatment can help people realize they don't have to suffer from ulcers."

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