How Can I Tell If I Have A Stomach Ulcer?

Do you often have a dull or burning pain in your stomach that lasts anywhere from a few minutes to several hours? Does the pain seem to flare up when your stomach is empty? Have you been taking Advil, Aleve or aspirin for a long time? If your answer to these questions is yes, you might have a peptic (stomach) ulcer.

At Westchester Health, we have a number of patients who come to us wanting to know if the pain they’re feeling might be an ulcer, and if so, is there is anything they can do to relieve that pain. To help them, and anyone else who’s experiencing this kind of discomfort, understand stomach ulcers, what causes them and what can be done to reverse the condition, we offer this informational blog.

What exactly is a stomach ulcer?

Elie M. Abemayor, MD, Sc.M.

Stomach, or peptic, ulcers are open sores that develop on the inside lining of your stomach or the upper portion of your small intestine. This occurs when the thick layer of mucus that protects your stomach from digestive juices is diminished, which then enables digestive acids to eat away at the tissues that line your stomach, causing an ulcer.

According to Medscape, peptic ulcers are almost equally as common in men and women.

There are two types of peptic ulcers:

  1. Gastric ulcers that occur on the inside of the stomach
  2. Duodenal ulcers that occur on the inside of the upper portion of your small intestine (duodenum)

Peptic ulcer disease can be caused by these factors, sometimes in combination

  1. increased stress
  2. spicy foods
  3. an infection caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori
  4. long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve)
  5. a rare condition known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome can cause stomach and intestinal ulcers by increasing the body’s production of acid

12 signs that you may have a stomach ulcer

A number of symptoms are associated with stomach ulcers, says the website Healthline. The severity of the symptoms depends on the severity of the ulcer. The most common symptom is a burning sensation or pain in the middle of your abdomen between your chest and belly button. Typically, the pain is more intense when your stomach is empty, can last for a few minutes to several hours, and comes and goes for several days, weeks or months.

Typical symptoms include:

  1. dull or burning pain in the stomach
  2. weight loss
  3. intolerance of fatty foods
  4. nausea or vomiting
  5. bloating
  6. feeling easily full
  7. burping or acid reflux
  8. heartburn (burning sensation in the chest)
  9. pain that improves when you eat, drink or take antacids
  10. anemia (symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath or pale skin)
  11. dark, tarry stools
  12. vomit that’s bloody or looks like coffee grounds

Are you at risk of an ulcer?

By themselves, the following factors usually do not cause ulcers, but they can make them worse and more difficult to heal. In addition to taking NSAIDs long-term, you may have an increased risk of peptic ulcers if you:

  1. Smoke. Smoking may increase the risk of peptic ulcers in people who are infected with Helicobacter pylori
  2. Drink alcohol. Alcohol can irritate and erode the mucous lining of your stomach, and also increase the amount of stomach acid that’s produced
  3. Have untreated stress
  4. Eat spicy foods

Don’t ignore an ulcer

Although stomach ulcers can be easily cured, they can become serious without proper treatment. If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, even mildly, you may have an ulcer that could get worse if not treated. Left untreated, peptic ulcers can result in internal bleeding, infection and digestive tract obstruction.

Most ulcers can be treated with a prescription medication, but in rare cases, surgery may be required. If you have an actively bleeding ulcer, you may need to be hospitalized for IV ulcer medications and possibly a blood transfusion.

Read our blogs on the subject

We’ve written several informative blogs focusing on conditions and disorders of the digestive system, which you can read here.

Helpful websites we recommend

Worried that you might have an ulcer? Please come see us.

If you’re experiencing any of the above signs or symptoms, or if your digestive tract is bothering you in any way or causing you pain, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health gastroenterologists. We’ll examine you, evaluate your symptoms, maybe perform some tests, and together with you, decide on the best treatment going forward, given your individual health needs. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

By Elie M. Abemayor, MD, Sc.M., a gastroenterologist with Westchester Health, member of Westchester Health Physician Partners

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