Difference Between Abscess and Ulcer (With Table)

A cavity is formed due to intense tissue damage from an abscess, however, ulcers do not produce such cavities. They simply produce painful sores along the digestive canal and the peripheral organs attached to the digestive system.  

Abscess vs Ulcer

The main difference between abscess and ulcer is that the former refers to the formation of a tender mass that is filled with infectious pus and surrounded by reddened skin, while the latter refers to an open sore that usually occurs along the lining of the GI tract. Abscesses are closed lesions that contain contaminated pus. While ulcers are open sores that do not contain pus.

Comparison Table Between Abscess and Ulcer

Parameters of Comparison




Abscess refers to the formation of a cavity due to excessive tissue damage, which is in turn filled with infected pus.

Ulcers are a form of open infections that generally occur along the GI tract.

Type of Lesion

Abscesses are closed lesions.

Ulcers are open lesions.

Most Common Area of Occurrence

A skin abscess is the most commonly occurring abscess variant.

Ulcers generally develop along the Gastro-Intestinal route.   

High-Risk Groups

Those who suffer from chronic ailments like cancer, AIDS, diabetes are more prone to abscess formation.

Those who lead a stressful life, consume spicy food, and suffer from high acid reflux are more prone to developing ulcers.


Caused by the weakening of the immune system of the body.

Caused by the Helicobacter Pyloric bacteria.


Fevers, chills, warm and swollen infection site, pain, etc. are common symptoms of abscesses.

Upper abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, etc. are common symptoms of ulcers.


Abscesses need to be drained by a trained professional. This is followed by packing the wound as well as an antibiotic treatment to prevent further infections.

Ulcers are managed with medication like antacids and antibiotics.

Depth of Penetration

Most abscesses are not very invasive. However, some variants do penetrate into the deeper dermis of the skin.

Ulcers penetrate much deeper than abscesses. They tend to cause deep tissue damage.

Recovery Period

Abscesses have a shorter recovery period when compared to ulcers.

Ulcers take longer to heal.


Skin, brain, dental, and spinal cord abscesses are the most common ones.

Mouth, duodenal, peptic, and gastric ulcers are the most common ones.

What is Abscess?

Abscesses are painful tender masses that develop most commonly on the skin but can also be formed on the other parts of the body. Generally, the area around an abscess reddens and becomes significantly warmer. Abscesses are closed lesions filled with infected pus. Skin abscesses are the easiest to detect as they are easily visible.

When the immune system of the body fails to counter an infection caused by the bacterial invasion, white blood cells are deployed to annihilate the infection and consequently get absorbed into the mass. They collect in the damaged tissue and cause further inflammation. The liquefied pus inside an abscess is constituted of dead cells, debris, and bacteria.

Abscesses are generally treated by draining the infected area and then packing the wound. A course of antibiotics cannot heal an abscess. It needs to be drained by a professional. Individuals suffering from chronic diseases are most likely to develop abscesses as their immune responses are already suppressed. Abscesses of the brain, lungs, and teeth are also common.

What is Ulcer?

Ulcers are painful sores that occur along the lining of the stomach, small intestine, or esophagus. They are closed lesions that do not have pus. Most ulcers are caused due to a certain bacterial infection. The Helicobacter Pyloric infection causes most GI ulcers. A physician will generally check for this bacterial infection in the blood of the patient to confirm the ulcer diagnosis.

Ulcers can also be caused due to the lifestyle patterns of individuals including the consumption of a highly spicy and oily diet, stressful living, intense acid reflux, etc. Ulcers of the stomach are known as gastric ulcers, while ulcers of the small intestine are known as duodenal ulcers. Mouth ulcers are also quite common among certain people.

Ulcers can be treated by antibiotic and antacid medications. They can also be managed by regulating one’s diet carefully. Usually, ulcers take a longer time to heal. They can cause intense upper GI pain, discomfort, and nausea. Loss of appetite may also be a symptom of ulcers.

Main Differences Between Abscess and Ulcer

  1. The main difference between an abscess and an ulcer is the former refers to the formation of a cavity due to tissue destruction which in turn fills with infected pus, while the latter is a form of infection where a painful open sore is formed, usually along the GI tract.
  2. Although both abscesses and ulcers are lesions of the body tissue, abscesses are closed lesions, while ulcers are characteristically open lesions.
  3. Ulcers are usually caused by an infection caused by the Helicobacter Pyloric bacteria. Prolonged anti-inflammatory medication and stress can also intensify one’s predisposition to ulcers. Abscesses are generally caused by the weakening of an individual’s immune response.
  4. People with immune system weakening chronic diseases like cancer, AIDS, Cohn’s Disease, diabetes, etc. are more prone to the development of abscesses, while those will poor lifestyle habits and consumption patterns are more likely to develop ulcers.
  5. Abscesses are most likely to occur on the skin of an individual, while ulcers are most frequently located along the GI tract.
  6. Ulcers can penetrate deep into the layers of the skin tissue, severely damaging them. They often penetrate into the dermis as well as the sub-cutis. Conversely, abscesses are more frequently superficial. Some variants may be more invasive than others, but these cases are rather rare.
  7. As ulcers run deeper than most abscesses, they need a longer recovery period to heal.
  8. The symptoms of each differ. Common symptoms associated with abscesses include fevers, chills, and redness of the infection site, pain, warmth, and swelling. Alternatively, ulcer symptoms include pain or discomfort in the upper abdominal region, fatigue, nausea, heartburn, pain in the chest, etc.
  9.  Antibiotic medications are generally used to cure ulcers. These medications may be paired with antacids to reduce acid reflux. Conversely, most skin abscesses need to be incised and drained, as medications alone cannot cure abscesses. This has to be followed by packing the wound and securing it from any further infections until completely cured.
  10. Brain, dental, peritonsillar, and spinal cord abscesses are also common variants apart from the most frequent skin abscess. Ulcers mainly occur along the GI tract including the stomach, duodenal, gastric, peptic ulcers but they can also be of the mouth and esophagus.


Abscesses and ulcers are both extremely painful and uncomfortable infectious skin lesions. They are both caused by infections and can become serious if not attended to promptly. However, there are several potent differences between these two.

Abscesses are quite different from ulcers as they are closed lesions that contain pus. Contrarily, ulcers are open lesions that do not contain pus. Skin abscesses are the most common variant experienced by most people, while ulcers are usually localized to the gastro-intestinal tract.

The causes, symptoms, treatment methods, recovery period, and subtypes of each are also very different. However, the key takeaway remains that both need medical attention to avoid unnecessary and severe escalations.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1067251611005771
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1056872799000653