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Gastrointestinal System: Peptic Ulcer

Food travels through your body on an incredible journey from top to bottom, from your mouth to your anus.

Gastrointestinal System

Food travels through your body on an incredible journey from top to bottom, from your mouth to your anus. The nutrition in food is converted into nutrients and energy during the absorption process.

There are several organs in your digestive system, including your GI tract, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. An organ series connected from mouth to anus, the gastrointestinal tract consists of hollow organs. In addition to the mouth and esophagus, the digestive tract includes the stomach, the small intestine, the large intestine, as well as the small intestine.

As an organ of digestion, your digestive system is specially designed to convert your food into nutrition and energy you need to live. When it's done, it neatly packages your waste, or stool, so you can dispose of it after a bowel movement.

It is important for you to digest your food and drink, since your body needs nutrients to function properly and stay healthy. The importance of water should not be underestimated, as it is equally important to carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Food and liquids you consume are broken down and nutrients are absorbed by your digestive system to provide energy, growth, and cell repair.

An individual's digestive system is composed of six main organs (arranged according to function): the mouth, esophagus, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, rectum, and anus. A pancreas, gallbladder, and liver assist them along the way. These organs make up the digestive system.


A person's digestive tract begins in the mouth. Even before you swallow, digestion begins. As soon as you smell the pasta dish or warm bread, your salivary glands start working. As food is chewed, digestible pieces are broken down. Your saliva helps your body absorb food by breaking down food in your mouth. The food you swallow is passed down your esophagus and into your throat by your tongue.


Eating is done through your mouth, and the esophagus lies in your throat close to your trachea (windpipe). In order to prevent you from choking (when food enters the windpipe), the epiglottis folds over your windpipe when you swallow. The movement of food from your stomach to your esophagus occurs as a result of muscular contractions called peristalsis.

Food cannot pass through the esophagus until the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes. This sphincter contracts so stomach content won't flow back into the esophagus.


A hollow organ, or 'container,' holds food while it is mixed with stomach enzymes. Food is broken down by these enzymes so that it can be used. Your stomach contains lining cells that secrete strong acids and powerful enzymes responsible for breaking down foods. In the small intestine, stomach contents are released after being processed enough.

Small intestine

Food in the small intestine is broken down by enzymes and bile produced by the liver in three segments: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. The pancreas and liver also work together to move food through this organ and mix it with digestive juices!

Located in the small intestine is a segment known as the duodenum. During this segment, food is continuously broken down. Lower in the intestine, the jejunum and ileum absorb most nutrients into the bloodstream. The contents of the small intestine become liquid after passing through the small intestine. This change in consistency can be explained by the presence of water, bile, enzymes and mucus. Following the small intestine passage of nutrients and food residue, the remaining liquids move to the large intestine, or colon.


As a result of digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas, digestion occurs in the duodenum. Insulin is also produced in the pancreas, which enters the bloodstream directly. Insulin deficiency leads to diabetes, a disease where the body stores too much sugar.


To process nutrients absorbed from the small intestine, the liver is the predominant organ in the digestive system. Bile from the liver also plays a role in the digestion of fat and certain vitamins in the small intestine. The liver functions as your body's chemical factory, taking raw materials absorbed from the intestine and converting them into the chemical compounds your body needs to function. Potentially harmful chemicals are also detoxified by the liver. Many drugs are broken down by it and secreted into your body, which can be toxic.

Gall bladder

A gallbladder stores and concentrates bile from the liver, which is released into the small intestine so that fats can be digested and absorbed.

Colon (large intestine)

Waste is processed by the colon, which makes emptying your bowels convenient and easy. Approximately six feet of muscular tube connects the small intestine to the rectum. This is the large intestine, which is divided into four segments: the cecum, the descending colon (left), the ascending colon (right), the transverse colon (across), and the sigmoid colon, which is connected to the rectum.

Peristalsis, or the movement of stool from the digestive tract to the colon, moves the stool from a liquid to a solid form. The colon then removes water as the stool passes through. One or two times a day, a "mass movement" moves stool from the sigmoid (S-shaped) colon into the rectum.

For stool to pass through the colon, it usually takes about 36 hours. This is mainly due to bacteria and food debris in the stool. Several beneficial functions are performed by these "good" bacteria, including synthesis of vitamins, the processing of wastes and food particles, and protection against harmful bacteria. In bowel movements, stool, or feces, are deposited in the descending colon. This triggers the colon to empty its contents into the rectum.


There is an 8-inch-long chamber connecting the colon to the anus called the rectum. During evacuation (pooping out), the rectum is responsible for receiving stool from the colon. It tells the body that stool is to be evacuated (pooped out) and holds it until it is evacuated. Sensors in the rectum send signals to the brain whenever anything (gas or stool) enters. Afterwards, the brain will decide whether or not to release the rectal contents. When the sphincters relax, the rectum contracts and the contents of the rectum are expelled. A sphincter contracting as it can't dispose of the contents accommodates the rectum, causing the feeling to temporarily disappear.


Towards the end of the digestive tract lies the anus. Anal sphincter (internal and external) and muscles of the pelvis floor make up this 2-inch canal. The lining of the upper anus can be used to detect rectal contents. By doing so, you can tell if they are liquids, gases, or solids. A sphincter muscle surrounds the anus, which regulates the flow of stool. An angle between the rectum and the anus is created when the pelvic floor muscles contract. This prevents stool from emerging when it shouldn't. There is no tightening of the internal sphincter except when stool enters the rectum. Our bowels are kept continent while we are asleep (that is, we don't have to poop unintentionally). We rely on our external sphincter in order to hold the stool onto the toilet until we are able to release it, which is when the external sphincter relaxes, releasing the contents.

Peptic Ulcer

Open sores develop on the inside lining of your stomach and in the upper portion of your small intestine. Peptic ulcers cause stomach pain as the most common symptom.

Ulcers of the stomach include:
  • The inside of the stomach is affected by gastric ulcers
  • An ulcer that occurs on the inside of the smaller intestine (duodenum) can be extremely painful.
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) can cause peptic ulcers, as can the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), and naproxen sodium (Aleve). Peptic ulcers are not caused by stress. Instead, they make the condition worse.


  • Heartburn
  • Intolerance to fatty food
  • Nausea
  • Burning stomach pain
  • Feeling fullness, bloating or belching
One of the most common symptoms of a peptic ulcer is burning stomach pain. Both stomach acid and empty stomach cause the pain to worsen. Some foods that buffer stomach acids can relieve the pain, as can taking an acid-reducing medication, but then it may return. Sometimes the pain increases during the night.

Peptic ulcers are rarely accompanied by symptoms.

When you have ulcers, you are less likely to experience the following symptoms:
  • Feeling faint
  • Appetite changes
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Trouble breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dark blood in stools
  • Vomiting or vomiting blood


During a stomach or small intestine ulcer, the stomach or small intestine's inner surface is eroded by stomach acid. It can cause an open wound that bleeds. Acid is normally protected from entering your digestive system by a mucous layer. A painful ulcer can develop, however, if the acid level is too high or the mucus level is too low. The following causes are common:
  • A bacterium - A common place for Helicobacter pylori bacteria to reside is in layers of mucus that cover and protect the tissues lining the stomach and intestine. A H. pylori infection does not usually cause any problems but can cause an ulcer when the bacterium infects the stomach's inner layer. H. pylori infection is not known how it spreads. People can contract it from each other during close contact. Certain foods or drinks can also lead to infection.
  • Certain pain relievers are regularly used. A person's stomach and small intestine can become irritated or inflamed when they take aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Other medications include naproxen sodium (Aleve, Anaprox DS, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, etc.), and ketoprofen. Neither Tylenol nor other products contain acetaminophen.
  • Taking other medications - With an NSAID, certain other medications can greatly increase the chances of developing ulcers. These include low-dose aspirin, anticoagulants, risedronate (Actonel), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), steroids, and alendronate (Fosamax).
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Ankur Choudhary is India's first professional pharmaceutical blogger, author and founder of, a widely-read pharmaceutical blog since 2008. Sign-up for the free email updates for your daily dose of pharmaceutical tips.
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