Stomach Ulcers in Women
In this article, you will find everything you need to know about stomach ulcers in women, including gender-specific information, symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
Stomach Ulcers in Women – Gender Specific Differences
Truth be told, there is not much difference between peptic ulcers in women versus those in men; symptoms, causes, and treatments are virtually the same.
The only unusual thing about stomach ulcers across the genders is that men are actually about twice as likely to develop an ulcer as women. The reason why women are much less likely to develop an ulcer has yet to be established. H pylori rates do not differ significantly between genders.
There is one dangerous behavior that women are more likely to partake in than men: regular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) usage. The most popular NSAIDs are aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
Women are more likely to regularly use NSAIDs than men, even when dealing with the symptoms of the same condition (1). Given that women are much more likely to get chronic headaches, migraines, and chronic pain disorders than men, it is not surprising that women are more likely to use NSAIDs.
Since chronic use of NSAIDs can cause peptic ulcers, using these medications regularly for pain may not be a good idea.
However, in the case of low-dose aspirin therapy, stopping NSAID usage is not advisable unless recommended by your doctor. Heart disease has a much higher mortality rate than ulcers, so low-dose aspirin therapy is usually only discontinued in the case of significant ulcer bleeding (and even then, low-dose aspirin therapy is typically resumed once bleeding has been treated).
Stomach Ulcers in Women – Symptoms
Symptoms are the same across all genders. One symptom of stomach ulcers in women that men rarely experience is fatigue due to anemia. If an ulcer is bleeding very slowly, you may begin to lose blood without even realizing it. This can lead to anemia if left untreated; which is a lack of red blood red cells. This results in unexplained fatigue. However, this symptom does not occur in everyone or even a majority of women with ulcers. More common symptoms of ulcers in women include:
- Burning stomach pain typically relieved by eating (most common symptom)
- Loss of appetite or nausea
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blood in stool or vomit (typically black in color, fairly rare, and warrants immediate medical attention)
For more details on the symptoms of ulcers and what they mean, see our article on stomach ulcer symptoms.
Stomach Ulcer Causes in Women
The primary cause of ulcers in both women and men is thought to be H pylori infection. This bacterium lives in the stomach and intestine and is present in nearly all cases of ulcers. The other primary cause of ulcers is the usage of NSAID drugs. There are a few other stomach ulcer causes in women but are extremely rare (genetic abnormalities and being hospitalized in the intensive care unit among others). H pylori and NSAID usage causes the vast majority of ulcers.
Peptic Ulcer Treatment Options for Women
Since most ulcers are caused by H pylori infection, most stomach ulcer treatment protocols center around treating this bacteria. The first step is to test for infection. There are several H pylori tests available, but the most popular one is an urea breath test, in which you drink a solution which contains urea. H pylori will digest urea and release ammonia gas, which can be read by a specialized piece of equipment. This test is very accurate and non-invasive.
If you test positive for H pylori, you are likely to be put oral medications to battle the infection and heal the ulcer. The most popular protocol consists of two antibiotics and a proton-pump inhibitor and is known as triple therapy. There is no “one-size-fits-all” medication for H pylori treatment; specific medication used depends on doctor preference, patient medical history, and patient tolerance. The antibiotics used can be quite harsh, so patient tolerance is also very important. Triple therapy has a high success rate but one of the top reasons it fails is that the patient does not comply with taking the medication.
If you test negative for H pylori, your doctor is likely to recommend an endoscopy in order to gather more information as to the cause of your stomach problems. This will allow him (or her) to gather more details and see if an ulcer is actually present.
1. Dominick KL, Ahern FM, Gold CH, Heller DA. Gender differences in NSAID use among older adults with osteoarthritis. Ann Pharmacother. 2003 Nov;37(11):1566-71.