Stomach Ulcer Gastric Ulcer

Authored by Dr Colin Tidy, 03 Feb 2015

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Prof Cathy Jackson, 03 Feb 2015

Stomach ulcers are open sores that develop when the lining of the stomach has become damaged. Stomach ulcers are also called gastric ulcers.

It's not known exactly how common stomach ulcers are. They have become much less common since the 1980s because of much more effective treatments. So people with stomach ulcers now usually get better much more quickly.

The term 'peptic ulcer' is used to describe ulcers that are caused by too much acid in the stomach. This includes stomach ulcers and also ulcers in the first part of the gut (small intestine) known as the duodenum. Stomach ulcers are less common than duodenal ulcers.

The acid in your stomach can damage the stomach lining but this is usually prevented by a protective layer over the lining of your stomach. Sometimes this protective layer doesn't work properly and this allows a stomach ulcer to develop.

Read more about the causes of stomach ulcers.

The main symptom caused by a stomach ulcer is having a pain in the upper tummy (abdomen). Other symptoms may include:

  • Bloating. This means your tummy swells because your stomach is full of gas or air.
  • Retching. Also known as 'heaving'. This means sounding and looking as though you're about to be sick (vomit) but not actually vomiting.
  • Feeling sick (nausea).
  • Vomiting.
  • Feeling very 'full' after a meal.

A stomach ulcer may cause bleeding into the stomach, which may cause blood in your vomit (called haematemesis). Blood may also pass through your gut (bowel) and make your stools (faeces) very dark in colour or black (melaena).

A stomach ulcer may also cause a hole to form through the whole wall of the stomach (this is called a perforation) but this is rare. Food and acid can then leak out of the stomach and cause severe pain and make you very unwell. This is a medical emergency and needs hospital treatment as soon as possible.

Find out more about the symptoms of stomach ulcers.

Your doctor will arrange blood tests, including to see if any bleeding from the ulcer has made you anaemic. You will also have a blood test, stool (faeces) test or a breath test to see if you have the H. pylori germ (bacterium).

To confirm whether or not you have a stomach ulcer, you will usually be referred to a specialist to have a gastroscopy (endoscopy). This involves having a thin, flexible telescope passed down your gullet (oesophagus) to look for any inflammation or ulcers in the stomach. Samples (biopsies) of the stomach wall are also taken to check for any cancer in the stomach ulcer.

Read more about the tests for a stomach ulcer.

  • The initial treatment for a stomach ulcer is a 4- to 8-week course of a medicine to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. This will help to heal the ulcer.
  • If it is found that you are infected with H. pylori, you will need a course of treatment with medicines to clear this infection. This usually involves treatment with two different antibiotics and a medicine to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach.
  • If your ulcer was caused by an anti-inflammatory medicine then the best option is to stop taking the medicine and use a different type of medicine if needed.
  • Surgery is now usually only needed if a complication of a stomach ulcer develops, such as severe bleeding or a hole (perforation) in the stomach wall.

Learn more about the treatments for a stomach ulcer.

For most people with a stomach ulcer, the outlook (prognosis) is excellent. Depending on the cause of the stomach ulcer, treatment of H. pylori infection or avoiding non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines greatly reduces the risk of having any more stomach ulcers in the future.

Further reading and references

Hi,I had symptoms for about 2 months, nausea and upper abdominal gwaning feeling, plus appetite affected and had waves in the day feeling generally unwell , I think it was brought on due to a...

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