Stomach ulcer 


Peptic ulcer

A peptic ulcer is a painful condition that affects as many as one in eight people in the UK. But sufferers don’t have to put up with the discomfort. There are now effective ways of getting rid of ulcers. Dr John Bennett explains.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015

Peptic ulcer disease

Sometimes, the term "peptic ulcer disease" is used rather than stomach ulcer.

Healthcare professionals often prefer this term because ulcers are not just limited to the stomach – they can also form in the small intestine. These types of ulcers are called duodenal ulcers and are more common than stomach ulcers.

In this topic, the term "stomach ulcer" will be used to refer to all types of peptic ulcers, unless there is a need to differentiate between a stomach ulcer and a duodenal ulcer.

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Stomach ulcers, also known as gastric ulcers, are open sores that develop on the lining of the stomach.

Ulcers can also occur in part of the intestine just beyond the stomach - these are known as duodenal ulcers.

Both stomach and duodenal ulcers are sometimes referred to as peptic ulcers. Here the term “stomach ulcer” will be used, although the following information applies equally to duodenal ulcers.

The most common symptom of a stomach ulcer is a burning or gnawing pain in the centre of the abdomen. Read more about the symptoms of a stomach ulcer.

When to seek medical advice

You should always visit your GP if you suspect you have a stomach ulcer. Seek urgent medical advice if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • vomiting blood – the blood can appear bright red or have a dark brown, grainy appearance similar to coffee grounds
  • passing black tar-like stools
  • a sudden, sharp pain in your stomach that gets steadily worse and does not improve

These could be a sign of a complication, such as internal bleeding.

What causes stomach ulcers?

There are two main causes of stomach ulcers:

  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria, which can irritate the stomach or upper intestine lining, causing an ulcer to form
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin, which can have a similar effect

Read more about the causes of stomach ulcers.

Who is affected?

Stomach ulcers are common. In England, it is estimated about 1 in 10 people will have a stomach ulcer at some point in their life.

Stomach ulcers can affect people of any age, including children, but mostly people aged 60 or over.

Treating stomach ulcers

Medication can be used to treat stomach ulcers. A type of medication known as a proton pump inhibitor can usually reduce the amount of acid in your digestive system, allowing the ulcer to heal.

If an H. pylori infection is responsible for the ulcers, a combination of antibiotics can be used to kill the bacteria which should prevent the ulcer coming back.

If the ulcers are related to the use of NSAIDs, they are usually stopped and proton pump inhibitors used. In the case of aspirin-induced ulcers the aspirin sometimes needs to be continued, depending on why it is being given.

Your doctor will advise you on your particular case.

Read more about treating stomach ulcers.

If the underlying causes of a stomach ulcer are addressed, the ulcer usually goes away after treatment. It's important to address the underlying cause as new ulcers can sometimes form.

Complications of stomach ulcers

Complications of a stomach ulcer are uncommon, affecting around 1 in 50 people.

However, they can be serious and include:

  • bleeding at the site of the ulcer
  • the stomach lining at the site of the ulcer splitting open – known as perforation
  • the ulcer blocking the movement of food through the digestive system – known as gastric obstruction

Some complications are regarded as medical emergencies, though are rarely life-threatening. Older people aged over 70 are most at risk of experiencing a fatal complication of a stomach ulcer.

Read more about the complications of stomach ulcers.

Page last reviewed: 19/07/2013

Next review due: 19/07/2015


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The 8 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Ladywriter1968 said on 19 June 2014

I was diagnosed with Helicobacter pylori a week ago, I had pain on and off for 3 months but I assumed it was IBS as it would happen about 2-4 times each month, which involved feeling sick, severe cramping in tummy, excess wind and Diarrhea/diarrhoea about 2hr after eating. On going to the doctors I told him that I had IBS symptoms. I then took a stool sample up and it came back with pylori, now before I received results of test I had never even heard the name before, I heard of tummy ulcers but not the actual name of Helicobacter pylori. I was put on very strong 3 combo meds which was to much for me to take and I was very ill, so it had to be changed, the antibiotic and dose dropped down. I dont know how I got this thing and think its just another added medical problem I have now along with all the others I have. I read its very hard to get rid of and no guarantees. I had no idea I had a tummy ulcer but funny thing, I said to my husband some time back, it hurts when certain foods goes down my pipe, I wonder if I have an ulcer. The meds make me feel a little unwell, but gp advised me to take natural live yoghurt with it and that has helped a lot.

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Hintontel said on 13 December 2013

I’m 31 year old male and for the last couple of months have been suffering from real bad stomach pains, bloating feeling and getting generally depressed about it all. I’ve been to the doctors where they just gave me some peppermint oil – didn’t have any effect. I ended up going A&E one night as I was getting so fed up wih it. Here they predicted I had Gastritis and found trace of blood in my urine. I was given 5 days of antibiotics and Lansaprozole. This was a couple of weeks ago now and still I am suffering. Doctor has since changed peppermint oil for colofac but again still no change. Some days are better than others and I can't pin it down to certain foods/drinks. I have cut down on alcohols almost completely but again this has not made much difference. I have another doctors appointment in the new year if no better where we will talk about endoscope test to check what’s going on inside. Just wish I knew what it was causing it and how to fix this. Please help if you can

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psychstu said on 09 June 2013

I was prescribed ibuprofen for 2 weeks by my GP for swelling in my foot due to soft tissue damage. I only took 2 days worth of pills, 6 tablets in total and began to feel very unwell. I had sharp pain inbetween my ribs everytime I ate feeling hot and sick and uncomfortable pain in my stomach. I began to have black, watery stools. The walk in centre did a triage appointment over the phone and barely listened to a word I said, saying my symptoms could wait til I saw a GP. After ringing back I got an appointment and was diagnosed with gastritis, which I had had before and put on omeprazole. This doctor however said I wasn't to hesitate to return if this did not work as I may have a stomach ulcer. Later that week, I threw up half my blood supply and was rushed to hospital. After a gastroscopy, I was allowed home on omeprazole and iron. The hospital thought the ulcer had stopped bleeding, however it must have been trickling as I threw up half my blood supply again a week later and was rushed to hospital for a second time, almost ending up on HDU due to how poorly I was. I had an emergency gastroscopy and the ulcer was found to be healing and I'm now awaiting my third in July. I am only 20 and despite how rare a side effect this is of ibuprofen, so I urge anyone who's having similar symptoms to go to your GP or walk in centre and don't be deterred or feel like your wasting their time. I feel severely disappointed by the triage phone system.

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echo71 said on 22 March 2013

My doctor prescribed me 20mg omeprazole yesterday. Main problem is the pain, and although I am really hungry, attempting to eat even bland, soft food really hurts within minutes. Any ideas? Also anybody know how long it is brfore these capsules kick in and the pain reduces?

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marymint10 said on 02 July 2012

I take spasmonal forte, gaviscon advanced and lanzopricole. I belching, with stomach pains nausea and bloating. Can H pylori cause low folic acid.

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rubynolegs said on 02 May 2012

To richiebungalow and anyone else reading this: Yes you can pass blood but the best bet is to see your GP as the bleeding can be from other causes. I think it also depends why you have the Ulcers. If H. Pylori you will need medication to get rid of that once it has been identified.

See your GP for any rectal bleeding is the only advice I can give. If you need to see a Gastroenterologist you can find one on this site and ask for a referal. Choose and Book can take a long time to get an appointment and often they show no appointments and if you call the Clinic they will normally tell you they have no appointments and you may wait for 12 or so weeks, as happened to me, so it was back to GP to ask for a dirrct referal, much quicker with a direct referal to start with. (I have had Red blood cells in Urine for several tests and have been delayed 6 weeks so far in seeing a Urologist.due to that reason) You dont want that with bleeding from the rectum, good luck.

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HeatherW1 said on 04 November 2010

If you do have concerns that you may have an ulcer you really should consult your GP who arrange a test to check for the prescence of H. Pylori. It is however easy to test at home with reliable kits similar to pregnancy tests now available for more information have a look here Your GP can arrange anti biotic treatment if you test positive and it is a painless therapy - i know I've been thru it. Helicobacter pylori infection isnt the only cause of ulcers and if you test negative but still have symptoms you really must see your GP to get checked out.

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richiebungalow said on 21 October 2009

Do you pass blood with an ulcer ?

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