Stomach ulcer

A stomach ulcer is an open sore on the lining of your stomach which can cause burning abdominal pain. It’s also known as a gastric ulcer or a peptic ulcer.

You can also get them in your small intestine, in which case it’s called a duodenal ulcer.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is a stomach ulcer?

Normally, the lining of your stomach is coated with a protective mucus. However, if this mucus is damaged, the digestive acids in your stomach can attack the lining and an ulcer can develop.

It’s estimated that one in 10 people will develop a stomach ulcer at some point, with men being more susceptible. A stomach ulcer can occur at any age but your risk is higher if you’re over 60.

Some stomach ulcers are painless and trigger few, if any, symptoms. However, others cause abdominal pain and indigestion. In rare cases, complications may develop which can be serious.

Most stomach ulcers can be cured with medical treatment – often within two months of diagnosis.

How to tell if you have a stomach ulcer

Burning abdominal pain is the most common stomach ulcer symptom but you may also have other signs of a stomach ulcer. These include:

Occasionally, potentially life-threatening stomach ulcer complications can develop, including bleeding, perforation of the stomach lining and gastric obstruction. Get immediate medical advice if you’re:

  • Vomiting blood
  • Passing dark, sticky stools
  • Suffering from acute, severe stomach pain that’s becoming increasingly painful

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Diagnosis and tests for a stomach ulcer

If you regularly have stomach ulcer symptoms, make an appointment with your GP, who may refer you to a consultant. If your GP or consultant suspects you have a stomach ulcer, they’ll arrange a range of tests, which may include:

  • A blood test to check for anaemia and that your liver and pancreas are healthy
  • A stool sample, blood or breath test to check for H. Pylori – an infection which can cause stomach ulcers
  • A gastroscopy, when a tiny camera films the inside of your digestive system, identifying problems such as stomach ulcers
  • A biopsy to check for stomach cancer, which can have a similar appearance to a stomach ulcer

Causes of a stomach ulcer

There are two main reasons for the stomach lining’s protective mucus being damaged, allowing stomach ulcers to form. These are:

  • H. pylori infection
  • Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including aspirin

In rare cases, viral infections and conditions such as Crohn’s disease can trigger stomach ulcers.

Common treatments for a stomach ulcer

Over-the counter antacid medication will provide instant, short-term relief from many symptoms, including stomach ulcer pain. Lifestyle changes can also help. Try:

  • Reducing stress
  • Avoiding alcohol, coffee and symptom-triggering foods such as fatty or spicy foods, tomatoes and chocolate
  • Losing any excess weight
  • Stopping smoking
  • Eating smaller meals and avoiding eating late at night

Treating the cause of your stomach ulcer is the best course of action.

If you take NSAIDS, your doctor may review your medication and prescribe alternative pain relief to allow your stomach ulcer to heal.

Your doctor may also prescribe acid-suppressing medication, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or antacids.

If you’re diagnosed with a H. Pylori infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics and acid-suppressing medication to help your stomach ulcer heal.

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