Stomach (Gastric) Ulcer – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

The stomach is a bag like organ that contains gastric acid to help with the breakdown of food. Sometimes sores develop in the inner lining of the stomach. These stomach ulcers which are also known as peptic ulcers or gastric ulcers are a common problem which can be persistent and painful. The term peptic ulcer may also refer to sores that form in the first part of the small intestine (duodenal ulcer) or the food pipe (oesphageal ulcer).

Causes of Stomach Ulcers

Most cases of stomach ulcers are caused by Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori), a type of bacteria that tends to occur within the stomach and small intestine. H.pylori infection will not always cause a problem but sometimes it disturbs the mucous production that lines the stomach. This mucous protects the stomach from the gastric acid and once it reduces, the stomach acid can damage the lining.

Any factor that can increase the amount of gastric acid secretion, the acidity of the stomach acid or reduce the protective mucous lining of the stomach may cause stomach ulcers. Some of the other causes include :

  • Smoking.
  • Alcohol abuse.
  • Stress.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) like aspirin.

Spicy foods usually do not cause stomach ulcers but tend to aggravate the pain caused by an ulcer.

Tests for Stomach Ulcers

Your doctor may do one or more of the following tests to confirm a stomach ulcer.

  • Endoscopy.
  • Blood test to check for H.pylori antibodies which will indicate an infection.
  • Breath test.
  • Stool antigen test.

Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers

A burning or sharp abdominal pain is the most common symptom associated with a stomach ulcer. Sometimes the pain may be felt in the lower abdomen or chest. The pain usually gets worse if your stomach is empty. Ulcer pain tends to get worse at night and may last anywhere from a few minutes to hours. In severe cases, you may feel nausea and even vomit due to the ulcer.

Blood in the vomit or stool are signs of very severe ulcers and requires immediate medical attention. If your ulcer pain is relieved to some extent after eating, then it is more likely that you have a stomach ulcer. If the pain gets worse after eating, it is probably a duodenal ulcer.

Some cases of stomach ulcers may lead to complications like internal bleeding. In this case you may lose small amounts of blood over a period of time and this can lead to anaemia.

Treatment of Stomach Ulcers

The treatment may involve destroying the H.pylori bacteria with antibiotics or reducing the acid production and pH level by using antacids, acid blockers or proton pump inhibitors. Your doctor may also prescribe a protective solution to help coat the lining of your stomach which allows your stomach ulcer to heal.

If you suffer with a stomach ulcer, treatment is only part of the solution. You will have to take preventative measures as well to ensure that the stomach ulcer does not recur. This may involve a change of diet, reducing or stopping smoking and/or alcohol consumption, changing the type of chronic drugs that you use or stress management.