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Signs You Have a Stomach Ulcer, According to Physicians

Ulcers can seriously impact your quality of life.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Painful and recurrent, a stomach ulcer isn't just disruptive to digestion—it can seriously impact your quality of life. But contrary to folklore, ulcers aren't caused by too much stress, and a glass of milk isn't the best way to treat them. In many cases, ulcers can be resolved by dropping certain habits or taking medication. Here are the most common signs you have a stomach ulcer, and what you can do about it, according to physicians. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Are the Signs You Have a Stomach Ulcer?

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"The symptoms of a stomach ulcer are often similar to a regular upset stomach," says Andrew Boxer, MD, a gastroenterologist at Jersey City Medical Center in New Jersey. "But usually, the symptoms of an ulcer will not go away."

The symptoms can vary widely. "Some patients are completely asymptomatic, while some patients experience the worst pain of their life. There can also be anything in between," says Boxer. "Some patients may see blood in their stool or even vomit blood. In rare instances, an ulcer can cause an obstruction, and the patient will have nausea and vomiting. Because ulcers can involve bleeding, some patients may show anemia or a lack of hemoglobin on a blood test."

The most common symptom is upper abdominal pain, says Alex Spinoso, MD, of Genesis Lifestyle Medicine in Las Vegas, Nevada. "Occasionally the discomfort localizes to the right or left upper quadrants of the hypochondrium, the areas right below the chest on either flank where there are still ribs." 

Typically, pain associated with a stomach ulcer happens two to five hours after a meal, when the stomach secretes acid and is mostly empty, and at night when acid secretion normally increases, says Spinoso. Without treatment, ulcer pain may last a few weeks, followed by symptom-free periods of weeks or months.

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2

What Causes A Stomach Ulcer?

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"By far the most common causes of ulcers are smoking, use of NSAIDs [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] such as ibuprofen, and the presence of a stomach bacteria called helicobacter pylori," says Boxer. "In rare instances, they can be caused by cancer as well."

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3

How Is The Condition Usually Treated?

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"Ulcers are usually treated by getting rid of the cause—for example, quitting smoking, or no longer using the medicines that may be causing the ulcer," says Boxer. "Ulcers can also be treated using proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole and pantoprazole." Although it's very rare, sometimes surgery is needed to resolve ulcers.

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4

When Should You See a Doctor?

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If you're experiencing recurrent stomach pain or other symptoms that might indicate a stomach ulcer, it's a good idea to see your doctor. They will ask you about your medical history and use of medications. You may be advised to undergo diagnostic tests, such as one of the tests (blood, breath or stool) for H. pylori bacterial infection, endoscopy, or X-ray. And to ensure your health don't miss these 101 Health Habits You Didn't Know Were Deadly.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael