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Stomach Ulcer: Brief Version

What is a stomach ulcer?

A stomach ulcer is a raw place or sore in the lining of the stomach. It is also called a gastric ulcer.

How does it happen?

A stomach ulcer happens when part of the lining of the stomach is eaten away by stomach acid. Normally the lining of the stomach is protected from stomach acid. But sometimes this protection fails. Then you may get an ulcer.

This may happen because:

  • You have an Infection by bacteria called H. pylori. These bacteria cause most ulcers.
  • You are taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.
  • Your stomach makes too much acid.

Cigarettes and alcohol may make ulcer pain worse.

What are the symptoms?

You may have:

  • Pain in your upper belly that gnaws or burns.
  • Pain that gets better when you eat or take antacids.
  • Pain that wakes you up during the night.
  • Pain that gets worse when your stomach is empty. You may notice worse pain just before meals. Or it may hurt more a couple of hours after you eat.
  • Weight loss.

If the ulcer bleeds:

  • You may vomit and see blood in your vomit. You may see bright red blood or blood that looks like brown coffee grounds.
  • Your bowel movements may be black and tarry.

How do I know I have it?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and give you a checkup.

Some of the tests you may have are:

  • Tests of your bowel movement to check for blood.
  • Blood tests to look for bacteria that cause ulcers.
  • A special type of X-ray exam.
  • A test where your healthcare provider looks inside the stomach with a thin lighted tube. Your provider may take some tissue from the stomach for tests.

How is it treated?

It is important to get treatment for an ulcer. Your healthcare provider may prescribe:

  • Antibiotics to treat H. pylori bacteria.
  • Medicine to lower the amount of acid your stomach makes.
  • Medicine to coat and protect the area around the ulcer.
  • Antacids.

You may need to stay in the hospital for the first part of your treatment if your ulcer is causing serious problems, like bleeding.

You may need to take medicine for quite a while. You may need to make changes in how you eat and how you take care of yourself.

Your healthcare provider will recommend that you stop drinking alcohol and stop smoking cigarettes. You may also need to stop taking some medicines, like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. These medicines can irritate the stomach.

How long will it take to get well?

Ulcers get better with treatment, but they can happen again. Be sure to take your medicine. This will help keep you from getting more ulcers. It will also help prevent more serious problems, like bleeding or stomach cancer.

How can I take care of myself and help prevent ulcers?

  • Take all of the medicine prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Keep your follow-up appointments.
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Eat the diet recommended by your provider.
  • Avoid food and drinks that cause symptoms. Some of the things that can bother the stomach are coffee, colas, spicy foods, and acidic foods like oranges and other citrus fruits.
  • If you keep having symptoms, or you get worse, tell your provider right away.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-11-13
Last reviewed: 2010-10-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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