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 or peptic 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 upper abdomen. The pain can travel to your chest and neck, bellybutton, or back.
Other less common 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 symptoms, such as:
- a sudden sharp pain in your stomach that gets worse
- nausea and vomiting
- vomiting blood (the vomit looks red or black)
- blood in your stool (poo) or black stools
- weight loss
- feeling faint
- trouble breathing
If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.
How are stomach ulcers diagnosed?
Stomach ulcers are most commonly diagnosed by endoscopy — using a flexible tube with a tiny camera that’s passed into your mouth and down 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 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 if it is present
- medicines that reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces, 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.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: July 2019