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Symptoms and treatment of stomach ulcer

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

Stomach ulcer symptoms

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.

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.

Complications can be very serious and include:

Bleeding

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).

Perforation

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.

Stomach blockage

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.

Stomach ulcer treatment

Lifestyle measures can improve symptoms, such as:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Avoid any trigger foods, such as coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, fatty foods or spicy foods.
  • Eat smaller meals and eat your evening meal 3-4 hours before going to bed.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption to recommended limits.

Acid suppressing medication

4 to 8 week course of a medicine that greatly reduces the amount of acid that your stomach makes is usually advised. See the separate leaflet called Indigestion Medication for more information .

Most stomach ulcers are caused by infection with H. pylori. Therefore, a main part of the treatment is to clear this infection. If this infection is not cleared, the ulcer is likely to return once you stop taking acid suppressing medication.

If your ulcer was caused by an anti-inflammatory medicine

If possible, you should stop taking the anti-inflammatory medicine. This allows the ulcer to heal. You will also normally be prescribed an acid-suppressing medicine for several weeks. This stops the stomach from making acid and allows the ulcer to heal. However, in many cases, the anti-inflammatory medicine is needed to ease symptoms of arthritis or other painful conditions, or aspirin is needed to protect against blood clots. In these situations, one option is to take an acid-suppressing medicine each day indefinitely. This reduces the amount of acid made by the stomach and greatly reduces the chance of an ulcer forming again.

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