What are stomach ulcers?
Stomach ulcers, or gastric ulcers, are open sores on the lining of your stomach. They are fairly common. Most people with stomach ulcers feel a burning sensation in their stomach or abdomen.
Stomach ulcers are a type of peptic ulcer. They develop when the acids that normally help you to digest and break down food damage the lining of the stomach or the small intestine. This causes a break in the lining, resulting in an ulcer.
Signs and symptoms of stomach ulcers
Symptoms of stomach ulcers may be different for each person, and some people may not have any symptoms at all. Most people feel pain, but not every stomach ulcer causes stomach pain. The most common signs and symptoms of a stomach ulcer are:
The first indication that you might have a gastric ulcer is a burning feeling in your abdomen. Typically, you can feel this pain somewhere between your breastbone and belly button.
Normally, gastric ulcers cause pain while food is still in the stomach, so while you’re still eating or soon afterwards. If you experience pain when your stomach is empty, like in the middle of the night, you may have a duodenal ulcer. It is a different type of peptic ulcer that occurs in the upper small intestines, rather than in the stomach.
Apart from stomach pain, you may also experience indigestion or heartburn. These symptoms can cause you to feel bloated or to burp more than normal.
Nausea is another symptom of peptic ulcers. If your ulcer tears, it can start bleeding. This can cause you to feel especially nauseated and you may vomit up blood.
Loss of appetite
Having an ulcer can cause you to lose your appetite or not feel hungry. You may also feel full even though you’ve only eaten a small amount of food. These symptoms can cause you to lose weight quickly and unexpectedly.
Causes of stomach ulcers
Gastric ulcers occur when damage is done to the lining of the stomach. The condition has two main causes.
The most common cause is a bacterial infection. Heliobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria damages the mucus that helps protect the stomach lining and duodenum. When this damage occurs, stomach acid can then work its way through the lining.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and aspirin, can also cause ulcers. If you take these medications over a long period of time or in high doses, they can damage your stomach lining.
When to see the doctor for stomach ulcers
If you have these symptoms and think that you might have a stomach ulcer, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Peptic ulcers worsen if they go untreated. Your doctor will be able to diagnose you and help decide the best course of treatment.
You should see your doctor as soon as possible if you start vomiting blood or notice a change in your stools. If your stool is dark, sticky, or tar-like, this is a sign of serious complications. You should also see a doctor if your stomach pain continues to get worse with no relief.
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Diagnosis and tests for stomach ulcers
Your doctor will give you a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms. To help diagnose your ulcer, they may run some tests.
A common test that your doctor may use is an endoscopy. A small, thin tube with a camera attached is inserted down your throat and into your stomach. It allows your doctor to see and diagnose an ulcer. Your doctor can also take a sample of your stomach lining to test for H. pylori bacteria.
Your doctor may run tests of your blood, breath, or stool to check for H. pylori.
Treatments for stomach ulcers
Most peptic ulcers take a month or two to heal with treatment. There’s a small chance that they may come back in the future.
If the cause of your ulcer is an H. pylori bacterial infection, your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics to kill off the infection. This also reduces your chances of developing another ulcer in the future.
Stomach ulcers caused by NSAIDs are treated with a medication called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). This medication helps to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, allowing the ulcer to heal. Your doctor may also recommend that you take paracetamol instead of NSAIDs.
Medically Reviewed on 3/9/2021
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Stomach and Duodenal Ulcers (Peptic Ulcers).”
Michigan Medicine: “Peptic Ulcer Disease.”
Michigan Medicine: “Types of Peptic Ulcers.”
National Health Service: “Stomach ulcer.”
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Diagnosis of Peptic Ulcers (Stomach Ulcers).”
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Symptoms & Causes of Peptic Ulcers (Stomach Ulcers).”
NHS Inform: “Stomach ulcer.”