Dealing With Gastric Ulcers
Gastric ulcers have complications that you need to be aware of
Fortunately, the symptoms of gastric ulcers are fairly simple to identify. Gastric ulcers may be one of the more common types of ulcers, but they can lead to serious complications if not attended to properly.
To help you along, its in your best interest to get to know the facts we reveal below these are facts that most doctors just dont have time to tell you about in an average consultation. We will also show you why treatment of gastric ulcers is not aimed at the ulcer itself or your symptoms, but rather in removing the cause of the problem.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms then you may have a gastric ulcer. This list of symptoms is not definitive and should be used as a guide only. If you suspect you have a gastric ulcer you should see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
List of Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of gastric ulcers are almost opposite to the signs and symptoms of duodenal ulcers the main differences are noticed in the timing and severity of the pain.
What causes Gastric Ulcers?
80% of stomach ulcers are caused by infection with H. pylori. Therefore, a main part of the treatment is to clear this infection. If this infection is not cleared, the ulcer is likely to worsen.
The 10 Facts about Gastric Ulcers most doctors dont tell you about
How Do You Know If You Have H Pylori Infection
There are some common symptoms which could indicate that you may have H. pylori infection, for example, ongoing indigestion and bloating. The following can also occur:
- Unintentional weight loss
However, these symptoms could be a sign of other illnesses as well so to really confirm that you have H. pylori infection, you need to have some tests.
There are a few types of tests available to diagnose H. pylori:
- A blood test This will confirm you have H. pylori but its not going to be accurate if youve just been treated for these bacteria and you got rid of it. Thats because the test will still show positive although the bacteria have recently been cleared.
- A breath test To perform this test you first need to drink a liquid containing a substance called urea. After drinking this, a sample of your breath is collected and then analysed. This test is useful to determine whether you still have an infection about a month after youve finished a course of treatment.
- An endoscopy This is a more invasive procedure which can be done at the same time when doctors are checking your stomach with a small camera. While they are doing that, they will take a small sample of tissue from your stomach for analysis. This is the most accurate test available for H. pylori but the patient will experience some physical discomfort during this procedure.
- The stool test A straight forward test which will analyse your stools for infection.
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Diagnosis Of A Stomach Ulcer
Diagnosing a stomach ulcer is done using a range of methods, including:
- Endoscopy a thin flexible tube is threaded down the oesophagus into the stomach under light anaesthesia. The endoscope is fitted with a small camera so the physician can see if there is an ulcer.
- Barium meal a chalky liquid is drunk and an x-ray is performed, showing the stomach lining. These tests are less common nowadays, but may be useful where endoscopy is unavailable.
- Biopsy a small tissue sample is taken during an endoscopy and tested in a laboratory. This biopsy should always be done if a gastric ulcer is found.
- C14 breath test this checks for the presence of H. pylori. The bacteria convert urea into carbon dioxide. The test involves swallowing an amount of radioactive carbon and testing the air exhaled from the lungs. A non-radioactive test can be used for children and pregnant women.
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What Are The Symptoms Of A Bleeding Ulcer
Bleeding ulcers dont always cause pain. Sometimes the first signs of a bleeding ulcer are signs of anemia. These include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
You might have a heavier bleed if you notice:
- Blood in your poop, or black poop that resembles tar.
These symptoms require urgent medical attention.
Dull Pain In The Stomach
Dull and burning pain is the most common symptom of an ulcer. The pain is felt anywhere between the belly button and the breastbone. It can also travel out from the middle of the stomach up to the neck, down to the belly button, or through to the back.
Stomach acid helps break down and absorb the food consumed. Excess stomach acid makes the pain worse because it creates painful sores within the stomach.
This kind of pain is often more severewhenever the stomach is empty such as between meals or at night. Sometimes itcan also start a few hours after eating. This pain can last for several minutesto several hours. The burning pain is sometimes made better by eating or aggravatedbetween one and three hours after a meal. This occurs when food can no longerneutralize the acid produced by the stomach.
Taking antacids may help relieve some of the pain but it doesnt help cure the ulcer. The pain will just keep coming back. Eating certain foods can help buffer stomach acid.
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How To Recognize The Symptoms Of Stomach Ulcers
This article was medically reviewed by Roy Nattiv, MD. Dr. Roy Nattiv is a board-certified Pediatric Gastroenterologist in Los Angeles, California. who specializes in a broad range of pediatric gastrointestinal and nutritional illnesses such as constipation, diarrhea, reflux, food allergies, poor weight gain, SIBO, IBD, and IBS. Dr. Nattiv received his undergrad degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and his medical degree from the Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv, Israel. He completed his pediatric residency at the Childrens Hospital at Montefiore, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and his fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco . While at UCSF, he was a California Institute of Regenerative Medicine fellowship trainee and was awarded the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition Fellow to Faculty Award in Pediatric IBD Research. In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Nattiv is active in the research community and has been published in several high-impact medical journals.There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article has 23 testimonials from our readers, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 3,729,912 times.
What Tests Are There For A Stomach Ulcer
If your doctor thinks you may have a stomach ulcer, the initial tests will include some blood tests. These tests will help to check whether you have become anaemic because of any bleeding from the ulcer. The blood test will also check to see that your liver and pancreas are working properly.
The main tests that are then used to diagnose a stomach ulcer are as follows:
- A test to detect the H. pylori germ is usually done if you have a stomach ulcer. The H. pylori bacterium can be detected in a sample of stool , or in a ‘breath test’, or from a blood test, or from a biopsy sample taken during a gastroscopy. See the separate leaflet called Helicobacter Pylori for more details.
- Gastroscopy is the test that can confirm a stomach ulcer. Gastroscopy is usually done as an outpatient ‘day case’. You may be given a sedative to help you to relax. In this test, a doctor looks inside your stomach by passing a thin, flexible telescope down your gullet . The doctor will then be able to see any inflammation or ulcers in your stomach.
- Small samples are usually taken of the tissue in and around the ulcer during gastroscopy. These are sent to the laboratory to be looked at under the microscope. This is important because some ulcers are caused by stomach cancer. However, most stomach ulcers are not caused by cancer.
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Can Stomach Ulcers Just Go Away
Some ulcers follow a chronic pattern of healing temporarily on their own and then returning. This might happen if the factors contributing to your ulcer, such as NSAID use, smoking and alcohol, are temporarily reduced and then resumed. You wont completely heal your ulcer until you eliminate the cause, whether that is chronic NSAID use, H. pylori infection or an overactive stomach. Even after successful treatment, you can get another ulcer.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have A Stomach Ulcer
Always seek medical care for a stomach ulcer. While you may be able to manage symptoms temporarily with over-the-counter medications, these wont heal the ulcer. You need to identify and treat the underlying cause. An untreated ulcer can lead to serious complications, even if your symptoms are mild. The major cause of stomach ulcers, H. pylori infection, can also lead to other complications.
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How Is A Peptic Ulcer Diagnosed
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, whether you take NSAIDs and other drugs, and medical history. Theyâll also check you for bloating in the belly and pain. That may be enough to make a diagnosis.
The only way your doctor can tell for sure if you have an ulcer is to look. They may use a series of X-rays or a test called an endoscopy. This test allows them to pass a thin, bendy tube down your throat and into your stomach and small intestine. The tube has a camera at the end so they can check the lining for ulcers. They may also take a small piece of the lining to test for H. pylori. Blood, breath, and stool sample tests also can screen for the bacteria.
How Are Ulcers Diagnosed
To diagnose a peptic ulcer, doctors do an exam, ask about symptoms, and take a medical history. If you have stomach pain or other symptoms of an ulcer, the doctor will do some tests.
One test is called an upper gastrointestinal series. These are X-rays of the stomach, duodenum, and esophagus, the muscular tube that links the mouth to the stomach. A person drinks a liquid called barium while getting an X-ray. If theres an ulcer, it should show up on the X-ray.
Another common test to look for an ulcer is an endoscopy . A person is sedated for this procedure. Then, the doctor puts an endoscope a small, flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end down the throat and into the stomach and duodenum. The doctors can see the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum to check for possible ulcers.
A doctor also can do a blood test that looks for H. pylori bacteria. This may be important if the upper GI series showed an ulcer. The blood test can be done right in the doctors office. Sometimes doctors test a poop sample or a persons breath to check for the H. pylori bacteria.
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Causes Of Stomach Ulcers In Adults
- Stress: Stress is one of the most unrecognized causes of stomach ulcers. If you are under extreme stress, you are more likely to develop stomach ulcers. As well, if you place your body under extreme stress by smoking, drinking alcohol, or eating spicy food, you can also increase your chances of developing an ulcer.
However, there are some other common causes of stomach ulcers that you should rule out before attributing your case to stress.
- NSAIDs: NSAIDs are anti-inflammatory and anti-pain medications which are commonly used and include well-known brand names like Aspirin and Ibuprofen. These medications typically have few side effects, but long-term use can cause stomach ulcers in some cases.
- H. pylori infections: H. pylori infections are very common bacterial infections that can affect anyone. While they often do not cause symptoms, in some cases, an H. pylori infection can irritate your stomach lining and lead to ulcers.
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome: Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is a rare disease, so its not a common cause of stomach ulcers, but when someone does have it, they will also likely have stomach ulcers. This disease causes an increase in the amount of stomach acid your body produces, which can damage your stomach lining.
What Are Stomach Ulcers
Stomach ulcers, also called peptic ulcers, are open sores that can develop in the inside lining of your stomach. They can also form on the upper section of your small intestine.
Peptic ulcers have different names depending on where theyre located in the body: gastric ulcersif they are in the stomach, and duodenal ulcers when they are in the small intestine.
Stomach ulcers happen when the acid in your digestive track eats at the inner surface of the organ, causing a sore to form. Just like a sore on the outside of the body, this can be painful and difficult to heal. Normally, the digestive tract of the body is coated with a thick mucus layer that prevents this from occurring. When the acid level increases or this mucus thins, you could develop an ulcer.
The acidity and weakening of the stomach lining that leads to ulcers can be caused by several things:
- A bacterium called Helicobacter pylori
- Factors like genetics, smoking, certain diets, or habitual stress. Certain seasons, such as the winter holidays, can also increase your chances due to heightened stress and richer food intake
- Long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil or Motrin, which can negatively impact your stomach lining
- As a side-effect of other medications
- A rare disease called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome that leads to hyperacidity
Today, H. pylori causes about 95% of all duodenal ulcers and about 70% of all gastric ulcers.
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Black Or Dark Colored Stool
If you think you may have an ulcer, a good way to tell is to look at your stool. If you notice that when you use the restroom your stool is extremely dark in color, or even black, chances are you are right about what is ailing you. If this is the case, you should absolutely go to the hospital immediately.
What Are The Symptoms Of Any Complications
Stomach ulcers can cause various complications but these are much less common now because of more effective treatments. However, complications can be very serious and include:
Bleeding from the ulcer
- This can range from a ‘trickle’ to a life-threatening bleed.
- If there is sudden heavy bleeding then this will cause you to vomit blood and make you feel very faint.
- Less sudden bleeding may cause you to vomit and the vomit looks coffee-coloured because the stomach acid has partly broken down the blood.
- A more gradual trickle of blood will pass through your gut and cause your stools to look very dark in colour or even black .
PerforationThis is the term used to describe the ulcer having gone all the way through the wall of the stomach. Food and acid in the stomach then leak out of the stomach. This usually causes severe pain and makes you very unwell. Stomach perforation is a medical emergency and needs hospital treatment as soon as possible.
Stomach blockageThis is now rare. An ulcer at the end of the stomach can cause the outlet of the stomach to narrow and cause an obstruction. This can cause frequent severe vomiting.
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If Your Ulcer Was Caused By Helicobacter Pylori
Most stomach ulcers are caused by infection with H. pylori. Therefore, a main part of the treatment is to clear this infection. If this infection is not cleared, the ulcer is likely to return once you stop taking acid-suppressing medication. For more information, see the separate leaflet called Helicobacter Pylori.
Can You Prevent A Peptic Ulcer
While stress and spicy foods can make symptoms of a peptic ulcer worse, they donât seem to make you more likely to have one. But a few other things can raise your chances.
Be careful when you take pain relievers. Some people who have arthritis or other conditions that cause chronic pain take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for weeks or months at a time to ease pain and swelling. These medicines can affect the mucus that protects your stomach against acid and make you more likely to have peptic ulcers.
These pain relievers include:
You’re more likely to get an ulcer while taking one of these if you:
- Are over age 65
- Are infected with H. pylori bacteria
- Take more than one NSAID at a time
- Have had a peptic ulcer in the past
- Also take a steroid drug or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
To lower your chances for peptic ulcers while you take NSAIDs:
- Use the lowest possible dose to control your symptoms, and stop taking them as soon as you no longer need them.
- Take your medicine with food.
- Don’t drink alcohol while youâre taking these medicines.
While you’re on NSAIDs, you can take medicine to lower the amount of acid your stomach makes. Drugs that can do that include:
- H2 blockers such as cimetidine , famotidine , and nizatidine
You can also take the drug misoprostol to boost the amount of protective mucus your stomach makes. But that can cause side effects like diarrhea and stomach cramps.
- Dairy products that have live cultures, like yogurt, kefir, and aged cheeses
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