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Stomach Ulcers

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Stomach ulcers, sometimes called gastric ulcers or peptic ulcers, are open sores in the lining of the stomach. Some people have no symptoms, while others can experience severe pain.

WakeMed’s gastroenterologists can help patients determine the cause of their ulcers, and get them back on track to a healthy, pain-free life.

What Are the Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers?

While small ulcers may not cause any noticeable symptoms, larger ones can cause pain and discomfort.

Ulcer symptoms include:

  • Burning pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. This can last for as short as a few minutes, or as long as a few hours.
  • Feeling bloated
  • Burping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Dark black stools

Symptoms are often worse on an empty stomach and at night.

What Are the Risk Factors and Causes of Stomach Ulcers?

The two main causes of stomach ulcers are:

  • H. pylori: This is a type of bacteria that can irritate the stomach, by breaking down the protective mucus layer. Many people have this bacterium in their bodies, but some seem to be more impacted by it than others.
  • Pain relievers: Long-term use of aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen and naproxen) can increase the risk of developing a stomach ulcer.

Risk factors also include smoking, excessive alcohol use and increased age.

Stress and spicy foods do not cause ulcers but they can exacerbate symptoms. Our nutrition counseling services can help patients make smart nutritional choices.

How Do You Diagnose Stomach Ulcers?

You should see a doctor if your symptoms aren’t resolving, or if over-the-counter antacids are only working temporarily.

When evaluating patients for stomach ulcers, our gastroenterologists start by taking a detailed patient history and a review of symptoms. Tests we may use to diagnose stomach ulcers include:

  • Upper endoscopy, in which the gastroenterologist inserts a special endoscope (a thin flexible lighted tube with a camera on the tip) into the patient’s mouth to inspect the stomach for ulcers
  • Blood, breath, or stool tests to screen for H. pylori

How Do You Treat Stomach Ulcers?

The goal of treatment is to heal the stomach lining. Some small ulcers will go away on their own, although they can come back.

Our gastroenterologists will first determine the cause of the ulcer. If it’s H. pylori, the usual course of treatment is antibiotics.

If the ulcer is caused by excessive use of aspirin and ibuprofen, the doctor will recommend the patient stop taking them, and find a new pain reliever. (Acetaminophen does not have the same impact on the stomach lining.)

The primary treatment of stomach ulcers is the proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medications.

These medications reduce acid production so that the stomach lining can heal. Our gastroenterologists will prescribe the appropriate medication for the optimal duration, to ensure that ulcers heal completely.

Make an Appointment

If you or someone you care for is experiencing worrisome symptoms, we encourage you to make an appointment with one of our adult gastroenterologists, pediatric gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeons.