(Stomach Ulcer; Ulcer, Gastric; Ulcer, Stomach)
DefinitionA gastric ulcer is a sore in the lining of your stomach.
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CausesUpsets in the balance of stomach acid and digestive juices can lead to an ulcer. This can be caused by:
- Helicobacter pylori ( H. pylori ) infection
- Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
- Radiation therapy
- Bacterial or viral infections
- Alcohol use disorder
- Other medications, such as steroids or those to treat osteoporosis
- Severe stress such as surgery, trauma , head injury, shock , or burns
Risk FactorsFactors that increase your chances of gastric ulcer include:
- H. pylori infection
- Taking NSAIDs for a long time and at higher doses
- Prior peptic ulcer disease
- Cigarette smoking
- Alcohol use disorder
SymptomsGastric ulcers do not always cause symptoms. Symptoms may come and go. Food or fluids sometimes make symptoms better. Having an empty stomach may make symptoms worse. However, symptoms can occur at any time.Symptoms may include:
- Gnawing pain:
- May awaken you from sleep
- May change when you eat
- May last for a few minutes or several hours
- Feels like unusually strong hunger pangs
- May be relieved by taking antacids
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Bloody or black, tarry stools
- Vomiting what looks like coffee grounds or blood
DiagnosisYour doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.Tests may include:
- Rectal exam and stool guaiac test
- Blood test, stool test, or breath test
- Upper GI series
TreatmentTalk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options may include one or more of the following:
MedicationYour doctor may recommend:
- Antibiotics if an infection is present or possible
- Over-the-counter antacids
- Proton pump inhibitors
- H-2 blockers
- Medications to coat ulcer
- Medications to protect stomach against NSAID damage
Lifestyle ChangesYou and your doctor will discuss lifestyle changes. These may include:
- Quit smoking . Smoking worsens symptoms and slows healing.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Avoid NSAIDs. This includes common over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen .
Surgery and EndoscopySurgery and/or endoscopy may be recommended for:
- An ulcer that won't heal
- Recurring ulcers
- A bleeding ulcer
- A perforated ulcer
- Problems with food passing out of stomach
- Removal of the ulcer
- Removal of part of the stomach or small intestine, and creating a new connection between the them
- Tying off the bleeding blood vessel
- Taking tissue from another part of the intestine and oversewing the ulcer
- Cutting part of the nerve to reduce acid production
PreventionTo reduce your chance of getting H. pylori infection:
- Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.
- Drink water from a safe source.
- Don't smoke . Cigarette smoking increases the chances of getting an ulcer.
- Use other drugs when possible for managing pain.
- Take the lowest possible dose.
- Don't take drugs longer than needed.
- Don't drink alcohol while taking the drugs.
- Ask your doctor about switching to medications less likely to cause ulcers. Talk to your doctor about taking other drugs to protect your stomach and intestine lining.
- Don't smoke. Cigarette smoking increases the chances of getting an ulcer.
The American College of Gastroenterology
American Gastroenterological Association
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
H. pylori and peptic ulcers. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/hpylori/index.aspx. Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Meurer LN, Bower DJ. Management of helicobacter pylori infection. Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(7):1327-1336.
Peptic ulcer disease. American College of Gastroenterology website. Available at: http://patients.gi.org/topics/peptic-ulcer-disease. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Peptic ulcer disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 22, 2013. Accessed April 29, 2013.
Understanding peptic ulcer disease. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/peptic-ulcer-disease. Published April 23, 2010. Accessed April 29, 2013.
- Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
- Review Date: 02/2015
- Update Date: 05/07/2014
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