Stomach ulcers are sores in the lining of the stomach or small intestine. They occur when the protective mucus that lines the stomach becomes ineffective.
The stomach produces a strong acid to help digest food and protect against microbes. To protect the tissues of the body from this acid, it also secretes a thick layer of mucus
Symptoms of Stomach Ulcer
The classic symptom of a stomach ulcer is indigestion, also called dyspepsia.
Indigestion causes pain or discomfort in the stomach area. This symptom can be mistaken for heartburn, which can occur at the same time.
Heartburn can be caused by acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It occurs slightly higher up from the stomach and is felt in the lower part of the chest.
It is worth noting that not all stomach ulcers cause indigestion.
Stomach ulcer symptoms tend to be more distinct than heartburn, but symptoms can still be vague.
An ulcer tends to produce a burning or dull pain in the stomach area. This pain is sometimes described as a “biting” or “gnawing” pain. Some people may describe a hungry sensation.
Other symptoms include:
- weight loss
- nausea and vomiting
- not eating because of pain
- pain may be relieved by eating, drinking, or taking antacids
Some stomach ulcers go unnoticed and show no typical indigestion-type pains. These ulcers are less common and tend to be diagnosed after the ulcer has started bleeding. Some ulcers can cause a hole in the stomach wall. This is known as perforation and is a serious condition.
Stomach ulcer symptoms often change over time and can be difficult to spot.
What causes stomach ulcers?
Stomach ulcers are almost always caused by one of the following:
- an infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
- long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen
Treating stomach ulcers
Treatment will vary depending on the cause of your ulcer. Most ulcers can be treated with a prescription from your doctor, but in rare cases, surgery may be required.
It’s important to promptly treat an ulcer. Talk to your doctor to discuss a treatment plan. If you have an actively bleeding ulcer, you’ll likely be hospitalized for intensive treatment with endoscopy and IV ulcer medications.