Do you ever experience a burning or gnawing pain in your stomach? It could be a peptic ulcer. Although most prevalent between ages 30 and 50, this common ailment can occur at any age and affects roughly 4 million people in the United States every year. Here’s what you need to know about peptic ulcer symptoms, how they’re diagnosed, treatment options and more.
What is a peptic ulcer?
A peptic ulcer is an irritated area in the lining of the stomach wall that can be caused by some pain medications like NSAIDS, including ibuprofen and aspirin, or a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori that can be found in the stomach.
Stomach ulcers may cause you to feel symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, heartburn or, in rare situations, bleeding. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between an ulcer and other stomach pains. For some, an ulcer can cause pain soon after eating or feeling full after eating only a small meal. Other people may have a constant burning or gnawing feeling in their stomach area, while others may experience no symptoms at all.
What factors can increase your risk for ulcers?
Specific personal habits that can increase your risk for peptic ulcers include drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Increased stress, sleep apnea, regular use of NSAIDS and COVID-19 infections can also increase your likelihood of developing an ulcer. For a small number of people, there are genetic factors that make them more prone to developing peptic ulcers.
What problems can be caused by an ulcer?
Ulcers can cause pain and discomfort, but if left untreated, may also lead to serious health problems like internal bleeding that you see in your bowel movement or vomit, a perforation or hole in your stomach, and an obstruction or blockage in the colon that interrupts digestion. Although rare, these complications can be very serious and require immediate medical attention.
How is an ulcer diagnosed?
Peptic ulcers can be diagnosed with blood tests and through a special test called an endoscopy, where a camera is introduced through the mouth down to the stomach. An endoscopy can be used to view the stomach lining, repair any bleeding areas and biopsy concerning spots.
Can an ulcer be treated at home?
If you think you have a stomach ulcer, it’s important to reach out to your provider so he or she can come up with a plan for your treatment. Depending on the cause of your ulcer, it can typically be treated at home with oral medication that helps reduce stomach acid and coat the ulcer. When H. pylori is the cause, it is treated with antibiotics along with acid reducing medications. He or she may also recommend limiting NSAIDs, including aspirin, to minimize future risk.
If you are experiencing bleeding, sudden or severe abdominal pain or unplanned weight loss, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Stomach pain? Start a video visit now.
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Virtual Walk-In Clinic video visits are available anywhere in the U.S. and open to anyone with a Parkview MyChart account, even if you don’t currently have a Parkview provider.
To get started, log in to your MyChart account and select Virtual Walk-In Clinic from the menu. For the best visit experience, use the free MyChart mobile app, downloadable for Android or Apple products.