What are the symptoms of a stomach ulcer?
Pain in the upper tummy (abdomen) just below the breastbone (sternum) is the most common symptom. It usually comes and goes. It may be eased if you take antacid tablets. Sometimes food makes the pain worse. The pain may wake you from sleep.
Other symptoms which may occur include bloating, retching, feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (vomiting). You may also feel more 'full' than usual after a meal.
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 (this is called a haematemesis) 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 (bowel) and cause your stools (faeces) to look very dark in colour or even black (this is called melaena).
This is the term used to describe the ulcer having gone all the way through (perforated) 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.
This is now rare. An ulcer at the end of the stomach can cause the outlet of the stomach (the part of the stomach that goes into the duodenum) to narrow and cause an obstruction. This can cause frequent severe vomiting.
Further reading and references
Dyspepsia - proven peptic ulcer; NICE CKS, July 2015 (UK access only)
Cai S, Garcia Rodriguez LA, Masso-Gonzalez EL, et al; Uncomplicated peptic ulcer in the UK: trends from 1997 to 2005. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2009 Nov 1530(10):1039-48. Epub 2009 Aug 26.
Sachs G, Scott DR, Wen Y; Gastric infection by Helicobacter pylori. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2011 Dec13(6):540-6. doi: 10.1007/s11894-011-0226-4.
Niv Y; H. pylori/NSAID--negative peptic ulcer - the mucin theory. Med Hypotheses. 2010 Nov75(5):433-5. Epub 2010 May 4.
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