Stomach ulcers occur in the lining of your stomach. Although they are common and can be treated, it's important to be aware of the symptoms and get diagnosed early. If left untreated, stomach ulcers can lead to more serious complications.
What are stomach ulcers?
Stomach ulcers are open, inflamed sores in the lining of your stomach. They are also known as gastric ulcers. You can also get ulcers in the upper part of your small intestine – these are known as duodenal ulcers.
The most common causes of stomach ulcers are:
- Helicobacter pylori – a type of bacteria
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Spicy foods don’t cause stomach ulcers, but they can worsen the symptoms.
Stomach ulcer symptoms
Most people with a stomach ulcer don’t experience any symptoms. The most common symptom is burning pain in the stomach. The pain can travel to your chest and neck, bellybutton, or back.
Other symptoms include:
- indigestion (heartburn)
- loss of appetite
- feeling full and bloated, or belching
- not being able to tolerate fatty foods
Sometimes, stomach ulcers can lead to more serious complications. Symptoms include:
- a sudden sharp pain in your stomach that gets worse
- vomiting blood
- blood in your stool (poo) or black stools.
If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.
How are stomach ulcers diagnosed?
Stomach ulcers are most commonly diagnosed by endoscopy – a flexible tube with a tiny camera that’s passed into your mouth to your stomach. This procedure is done under general anaesthetic.
You’re also likely to have tests to check for Helicobacter pylori infection. Usually this involves a breath test or a test of the stomach lining during the endoscopy.
Stomach ulcer treatments
If you have a stomach ulcer, you may be given:
- a combination of antibiotic medicines to kill the Helicobacter pylori bacteria
- medicines that reduce the stomach acid, such as proton pump inhibitors.
Some people have one of these treatments, while some have both.
If you think you may have a stomach ulcer, see your doctor immediately.
Last reviewed: March 2015