Definition

A gastric ulcer is a sore in the lining of your stomach. Ulcers can be treated. A small percentage of them may be cancerous. See your doctor if you think you may have a gastric ulcer.

Gastric Ulcer

© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Most gastric ulcers are caused by a bacterial infection. It is most often Helicobacter pylori . An ulcer may also be caused by the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Risk Factors

Some factors thought to increase the risk of a gastric ulcer are:

  • Gender: male
  • Older age (the incidence of gastric ulcer peaks at age 50)
  • Regular use of pain medications
  • Smoking
  • High levels of stress
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Alcohol use
  • Acid reflux
  • Gastritis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Use of steroid medications

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain that may:
    • Wake you at night
    • Be relieved by antacids or milk
    • Occur 2-3 hours after a meal
    • Be worse when you don't eat
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal indigestion
  • Vomiting, especially blood
  • Blood in stools or black, tarry stools
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Burning pain in the gut that feels like a dull ache and comes and goes, often starts 2-3 hours after a meal and goes away after you eat, or it may come in the middle of the night when your stomach is empty
  • Losing weight
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain while eating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam may be done. Other tests may include:

  • Biopsy —removal of a sample of tissue for testing
  • Blood tests
  • Endoscopy —a thin, lighted tube inserted down the throat to examine parts of the body
  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) X-ray —a series of x-rays of the upper digestive system taken after drinking a barium solution (also called a barium swallow)
  • Breath tests

Upper GI Biopsy

Upper GI Biopsy
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Some ulcers will heal if you avoid caffeine, NSAIDs, alcohol, and tobacco. Other treatment options include:

Medications

Treatment with medications focuses on:

  • Stopping your stomach from making acids
  • Killing the bacteria that is causing your ulcer

Medications used to treat gastric ulcers include:

  • Proton pump inhibitors
  • Histamine receptor blockers
  • Antibiotics
Antacids may also help reduce pain and heal ulcers.

Surgery

If ulcers do not heal with medications, surgery may be needed. Surgery can remove the ulcers and/or reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes.

If you are diagnosed with a gastric ulcer, follow your doctor's instructions .

Prevention

Steps you can take to prevent gastric ulcers include:

  • Stop using NSAIDs. You can talk with your doctor about alternatives
  • Do not smoke.
  • Do not drink alcohol.