What is a stomach ulcer?

A stomach ulcer is a defect in the layers of the stomach. The wall of the stomach has four different layers. Normally, these layers are intact and help aid the stomach in the process of digestion. When you develop an ulcer, that means the third layer of the stomach, the muscularis mucosa, has been exposed! Normally, two other layers, the mucosa and submucosa, lie on top of the muscularis and protect it.  When the muscularis is not protected by either the mucosa or the submucosa, you have an ulcer!

What are symptoms of a stomach ulcer?

While some ulcers have no symptoms, others can cause pain in several areas of your body, including the epigastrium (abdomen right between your ribs), the left upper quadrant (just beneath the left ribs) or right upper quadrant (just beneath the right ribs). This pain can range from a dull, gnawing sensation, to a severe, doubling over pain. Other symptoms of a stomach ulcer can include nausea, indigestion, reflux, becoming full easily, weight loss, food intolerance (specifically fatty foods), pain that worsens when you eat a meal, and vomiting.

When should I see a doctor?

If you have developed new abdominal pain, or have pain that won’t go away, it’s time to see a doctor. I would also recommend seeing a doctor if you are having trouble finishing your meals, can no longer eat foods that you typically enjoy, are afraid of eating, have indigestion, reflux, are losing weight, cannot finish a meal, have persistent nausea, or are losing weight.

What causes stomach ulcers?

The two most common causes of stomach ulcers are from overuse of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (aspirin, aleve, ibuprofen, motrin, bayer, Excedrin, BC powder, Goody powder, etc) and from a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori.

How are ulcers diagnosed?

Ulcers can be diagnosed both by imaging studies such as a CAT scan and also by upper endoscopy. The advantages of an upper endoscopy is that this test allows for more information about an ulcer. For instance, an accurate size can be measured, biopsies can be obtained from the lining of the stomach to evaluate for Helicobacter pylori, and biopsies can also be obtained from the ulcer itself in order to evaluate for cancer.

Is there a treatment for stomach ulcers?

Yes! Ulcers can be treated both by anti-acid medications such as proton pump inhibitors (Nexium, Prilosec, etc) and also by eradicating Helicobacter pylori from the stomach.