Stomach Ulcer: Causes, Symptoms, Complications and Diagnosis

Stomach ulcers which are also known as gastric ulcers, are open painful sores developed on the lining of the stomach. Ulcers can also develop in small intestine just beyond the stomach which are known as duodenal ulcers. Both stomach and du

Updated: June 16, 2022

Stomach ulcers which are also known as gastric ulcers, are open painful sores developed on the lining of the stomach. Ulcers can also develop in small intestine just beyond the stomach which are known as duodenal ulcers. Both stomach and duodenal ulcers are sometimes referred to as peptic ulcers.

Causes of Stomach Ulcers:

When the thick layer of mucus that protects your stomach from digestive juices is reduced, digestive acids destroys the tissues that line the stomach causing ulcer.
Stomach lining can be damaged either by

  • An infection due to Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria
  • Long term use or high dose of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin.


Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers:

The most common symptom of stomach ulcer is a burning sensation or pain in the center of the abdomen.  The pain will be more severe when your stomach is empty, and it can last for a few minutes to several hours.
Other common signs and symptoms of ulcers include:

  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • loss of appetite
  • Burping or acid reflux
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Light pain in the stomach
  • Weight loss
  • Pain that increase when you eat, drink, or take antacids
  • Anemia
  • Bloody vomit or looks like coffee grounds
  • Dark, sticky and tarry stools


Complications of Stomach Ulcers:

Complications of stomach ulcers can be very serious and if left untreated can be life threatening. These can be


Penetration :

Penetration can occurs when the ulcer goes through the wall of the digestive tract and into another organ, such as the pancreas.


Perforation :

Perforation occurs when the ulcer creates a hole in the wall of the digestive tract.


Bleeding :

Bleeding from the ulcer can be life threatening.


Obstruction :

Blockage in the digestive tract due to swelling of inflamed tissues .


Stomach Cancer:

Untreated ulcer can lead to stomach cancer.
When you have these complications, you can have symptoms such as

  • Trouble breathing
  • Red or black vomit or stools
  • Weakness
  • Sudden, sharp pain in your abdomen that does not go away

If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to call you doctor right away.


Diagnosis of Stomach Ulcers :

Based on your symptoms and the severity of the ulcer, diagnosis can be done by many test. Your doctor will review your medical history along with your symptoms and any prescription or over the counter medications you are taking to diagnose stomach ulcer.


Testing for H. pylori infection:

If your symptoms are caused by an H. pylori infection, the following tests are recommended:


Urea breath test:

In breath test you will be given a clear liquid to drink and breathe into a bag, which is then sealed. The breath sample will contain higher than normal levels of carbon dioxide if H. pylori is present.


Stool Antigen test:

A small stool sample is tested for the H.pylori bacteria.


Blood test :

A sample of your blood is tested for antibodies to the H. pylori bacteria.
If you have H. pylori infection, you will need treatment to eliminate the infection, which can heal the ulcer and prevent it from returning. 


Gastroscopy:

In some cases, you may be referred for a gastroscopy to look inside your stomach directly and see whether you have a stomach ulcer. This include test such as:


Endoscopy:

This test can be conducted to look for ulcers, bleeding, and any tissue that looks abnormal in your stomach by inserting a long, flexible, lighted tube with a camera down your throat.


Biopsy:

In this test a samples of tissue is taken during endoscopy to check for infection or abnormalities under a microscope.


Barium swallow:

A thick white liquid (barium) will be given you to drink that coats your upper gastrointestinal tract and helps your doctor see your stomach and small intestine on X-rays.
  


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