Stomach Ulcer Symptoms
While having a stomach ulcer is not a pleasant experience, the earlier you detect a peptic ulcer (the medical term for a stomach ulcer), the sooner you can start an appropriate treatment plan.
The problem with stomach ulcer symptoms it that many people do not recognize they have one and instead chalk it up to stomach aches, nausea, or simply not feeling well.
In this article, I will be going over all the symptoms of a stomach ulcer. Additionally, throughout this site you will find a variety of information on what causes stomach ulcers and the different options for stomach ulcer treatment.
Stomach Ulcer Symptoms
The most common symptom of a stomach ulcer is a burning pain. This burning sensation is the result of stomach acid irritating the ulcerated portion of your stomach or initial portion to the small intestine (sometimes referred to as a duodenal ulcer).
Since stomach acid causes the irritation, most people experience their peak peptic ulcer symptoms on an empty stomach. In particular this occurs at night towards the morning hours as this is when you are most likely to have no food in your stomach.
Additionally, stomach ulcer symptoms frequently come and go. As the inflammatory status of your body, the amount of stomach acid present on a given day and the amount of helpful (or harmful) foods you eat changes on a daily basis, peptic ulcer symptoms are often come and go.
Other Symptoms of Peptic Ulcers
If a stomach ulcer becomes sufficiently advanced, other symptoms may develop. These can include:
- Dark, black or red stool (indicating blood in the stool)
- Nausea or loss of appetite
- Fatigue or weakness (due to anemia from blood loss). This is more prevalent in women than men.
- Weight loss
- Vomiting of blood (typically black; think of the color of a scab)
Even if you can relate to these peptic ulcer symptoms, only a doctor can give you a proper diagnosis. In particular, you should see a gastroenterologist for diagnosis.
The reason for this is that it can be hard to distinguish a peptic ulcer from a hiatal hernia, recurrent heartburn, gastritis, cancer, or another disease.
As a result, the only way to find out the root cause of your peptic ulcer symptoms is to have a diagnostic test run. This could be as involved as a endoscopy (which involves sticking a small “scope” into the stomach to check for an actual ulcer) or drinking a coating agent like barium and then running an x-ray.
Your doctor may also run a test for the H Pylori bacteria, which is believed to cause (or at least play a hand in) a majority of stomach ulcers.
In fact, in younger age groups, many doctors will skip an endoscopy altogether and instead opt for an H pylori test right away. If it comes back positive, many will begin triple therapy (a standard ulcer treatment) right away. This has become a preferred option amongst many medical professionals as an H pylori test is much cheaper and less invasive for the patient when compared to an endoscopy.
If an H pylori test comes back negative, an endoscopy may then be performed. Read more about H pylori tests.
Blood tests may also be used to check for anemia (below normal level of blood counts). In the presence of a severe ulcer, blood loss may occur to the point where blood cell counts become abnormal.
However, while the bacteria test and blood test are a lot less invasive than endoscopy, these may not be able to detect a relatively new ulcer not related to H Pylori whereas a scope would be much more likely to see this. The scope has the added advantage of being able to take a biopsy of the ulcer to check for H pylori and cancer.
Early recognition of stomach ulcer symptoms is extremely important, as dealing with a small ulcer is easier than recovering from large ulcer.
Stomach Ulcer Causes
If you have been having these stomach ulcer symptoms, you may be wondering about what might causes peptic ulcers and what might be the reason why you are getting such an ulcer.
The primary reason stomach ulcers occur is because of an infectious bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori, or H pylori for short. This bacteria seems to be very prevalent, with an infection rate ranging from around 20% in the United States to well over 75% in Africa.
While the vast majority of stomach ulcers are caused by H pylori, some are caused by over-usage of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
It is possible that other agents, particularly oral agents, may cause stomach ulcers and we just do not know about it yet. For example, consider popular products like an acne scar cream. It contains ingredients like copper peptide, silicone, and even hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is thought to be a carcinogen, yet it is still used in common beauty products. There is no reason to think that common over the counter products might not lead to stomach ulcers as well. Over time hopefully researchers and medical professionals will be able to identify these harmful ingredients.
Find out more about the causes of stomach ulcers in our section on Stomach Ulcer Causes.
Symptoms of H Pylori vs Stomach Ulcer Symptoms
Since stomach ulcers are typically caused by H pylori, naturally you might be wondering what the symptoms of H pylori are and how they compare to stomach ulcer symptoms. Unfortunately, this is not such an easy comparison to make.
H pylori typically has no symptoms in the vast majority of occurrences. If symptoms are present, they are much milder than stomach ulcer symptoms, and may include light nausea, stomach ache, or an otherwise upset stomach.
Most people actually do not realize they have H pylori until they develop stomach ulcer symptoms due to the beginnings of an ulcer. You can read more about the specific symptoms of H pylori in our section on H pylori symptoms.
Stomach Ulcer Diagnosis and Treatment
Since H pylori and stomach ulcers are so intertwined, many medical professionals around the world have adopted something known as the “test and treat” strategy.
This involves simply testing for H pylori, and if the person is positive, treating for both H pylori and a stomach ulcer (which really have the same treatment). This is typically a series of medications known as “triple therapy” which are only available by prescription. For this reason, you have to see a doctor if you have stomach ulcer symptoms.
If you are curious about the testing and treatment procedure, we have put together a detailed section on this aspect of stomach ulcers:
- Stomach Ulcer Diagnosis – While the test and treat is the most popular strategy, some doctors prefer an endoscopy based on your symptoms, age, and personal or family history. Read more about the different methods for ulcer diagnosis here.
- H Pylori Test – Explanation and pros and cons of the various methods of testing for H pylori. There are quite a few tests available.
- Stomach Ulcer Treatment – More details on the specific medications used to treat H pylori and what you can expect from the treatment process.
Stomach Ulcer Symptoms – Help from Home
If you have stomach ulcer symptoms, you really need to see a doctor to be tested and potentially treated for Helicobacter pylori – there is no way around this. However, there are a few things you can do to help ensure a safe and speedy recovery.
The first thing you need to do is make a complete list of every medicine and over-the-counter supplement you may take, including stomach soothers. These can often interfere with ulcer medication, so it is important for your doctor to know everything.
While diet alone is not enough to handle an ulcer, there is some research that suggests that certain foods and dietary choices can actually inhibit H pylori and even weaken it. Learn more in our section on the best Stomach Ulcer Diet.
Stomach Ulcer Symptoms Conclusion
You now know exactly what a peptic ulcer is, what causes it, and what the treatment options are. If you are experiencing symptoms, you will want to consult with a qualified medical professional who can interpret your symptoms and provide the appropriate diagnostic testing.