Health Conditions A-Z Digestive Disorders What Is a Stomach Ulcer? By Rachel Nall Rachel Nall Rachel works as a CRNA where she provides anesthesia care across the lifespan, including pediatric anesthesia, with a primary focus on orthopedic anesthesia. She is also an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, where she is the Simulation Coordinator for the nurse anesthesia program. Rachel loves teaching, whether it's in-person or through her writing. health's editorial guidelines Updated on April 28, 2023 Medically reviewed by Robert Burakoff, MD Medically reviewed by Robert Burakoff, MD Robert Burakoff, MD, MPH, is a board-certified gastroenterologist who serves as vice chair of Ambulatory Services at Lower Manhattan Hospital and professor of medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College. learn more Share this page on Facebook Share this page on Twitter Share this page on Pinterest Email this page In This Article View All In This Article Types Symptoms Causes Diagnosis Treatment Prevention Related Conditions Living With It FAQs Olga Rolenko / Getty Images A stomach ulcer, also called a peptic ulcer, is an area (or multiple areas) where the stomach lining is injured due to excess stomach acid. While some people can have stomach ulcers and not experience symptoms, others may have symptoms that include stomach pain, feelings of abdominal fullness, and bloating they can't explain. The most common cause of stomach ulcer disease is an H. pylori bacterial infection. An estimated 10% of people in the world have a stomach ulcer. While most do not cause significant effects, an untreated stomach ulcer can lead to bleeding or damage to the stomach lining. Treatments include medications such as antibiotics to cure the infection, as well as making certain lifestyle modifications if needed. Types Healthcare providers typically divide stomach ulcers into two types based on their location: stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers. A stomach ulcer causes sores to develop on the stomach lining. Pain associated with stomach ulcers tends to get worse when you eat, which is one way healthcare providers may be able to tell your ulcer type. A duodenal ulcer causes sores to develop in the duodenum, which is the first part of your small intestine. Pain related to duodenal ulcers will usually get better after you eat. Stomach Ulcer Symptoms An estimated two-thirds of people with stomach ulcers do not have any symptoms. For those who do have symptoms, the most common one is upper abdominal pain. This pain will usually occur between two and five hours after eating. Other symptoms may include: BloatingDyspepsia, or stomach discomfort caused by indigestionFeelings of stomach fullnessNausea, which may be accompanied by vomiting However, stomach ulcers can also lead to serious symptoms, such as gastrointestinal bleeding and stomach perforation. In severe cases, stomach ulcers can cause the following symptoms: Feeling dizzy or faintPassing black or tarry stools (a sign of blood in the stool)Rapid pulse or other symptoms of shockBlood in your vomitSudden, severe abdominal pain If you experience these symptoms, they indicate a medical emergency. You should seek immediate medical attention. What Causes Stomach Ulcers? The most common cause of a stomach ulcer is an infection with the H. pylori bacteria. This bacteria can have several effects that lead to stomach ulcers, which include: The bacteria makes an enzyme called urease, which makes your stomach acid less acidic. This can keep the stomach lining from being as protective.The weakened stomach lining from H. pylori means digestive fluids can cause further damage to the stomach lining.The bacteria can "stick" to stomach cells and cause inflammation and irritation. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil (ibuprofen), can also damage the stomach lining by decreasing blood flow to the stomach lining as well as reducing mucus secretion that helps keep the stomach lining healthy. Other potential stomach ulcer causes include: History of cancer or Crohn's disease History of surgery to the stomach Presence of severe, chronic illness, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) Previous infections with bacteria, fungi, or viruses other than H. pylori However, a healthcare provider may be unable to identify the cause of an underlying stomach ulcer. A stomach ulcer due to an unknown cause is called an idiopathic ulcer. Risk Factors Risk factors for developing a stomach ulcer include the following: History of H. pylori infectionHistory of excess alcohol or tobacco consumptionTaking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil (ibuprofen)History of Zollinger-Ellison syndrome Taking NSAIDs, anticoagulants, or aspirin can also increase your risk of getting a stomach ulcer. Diagnosis A healthcare provider can diagnose a stomach ulcer by first asking you about your symptoms as well as what makes them worse or better. They can also give you a breath test, where your breath is tested for the presence of H. pylori. Undergoing a procedure called an upper endoscopy can help a gastroenterologist (a doctor who specializes in the digestive system) view your stomach lining, identify stomach ulcers, and take biopsies or tissue samples of the ulcers. A laboratory test of the tissue sample can determine the presence of H. pylori or even cancerous cells. Additional tests include: Stool testing for the presence of H. pyloriBlood testing for electrolyte abnormalitiesStool testing for the presence of blood in your stool Conditions That Mimic Heartburn Treatments for Stomach Ulcers Stomach ulcer treatments depend on what is causing your stomach ulcers (if your healthcare provider can identify the cause). For example, healthcare providers treat H. pylori with antibiotics, which can cure the infection that causes stomach ulcers. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe proton pump inhibitors. These medications keep the stomach from making too much acid that can damage your stomach lining. Examples of proton pump inhibitors include Prilosec (omeprazole); Nexium (esomeprazole); and Prevacid (lansoprazole). If these treatments are not effective, a healthcare provider will likely prescribe additional antibiotics. An estimated 5 to 10% of people will experience a persistent H. pylori infection. Prevention Peptic ulcer prevention involves avoiding known causes of stomach ulcers. Prevention examples include: Avoiding excess alcohol intakeRefraining from mixing alcohol with medications such as NSAIDsUsing the minimum amount of NSAIDs whenever possibleEngaging in frequent handwashing to prevent infections, such as those from H. pyloriRefraining from smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products Related Conditions You're at greater risk for experiencing a stomach ulcer if you have one or more of the following medical conditions: Crohn's disease: This condition causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and increases risk for ulcer development.Heart failure: This is a condition where the heart doesn't pump blood as effectively as the body needs. Researchers don't know exactly why heart failure and ulcers tend to occur together.Liver cirrhosis: This is characterized as scarring of the liver that affects its function. The liver makes compounds that prevent bleeding, so damage and scarring can make stomach ulcers more likely to bleed.Stomach cancer: This causes uncontrolled replication of cancer cells and can lower your immune system's ability to fight off H. pylori bacteria.Zollinger Ellison syndrome: This is a digestive disorder that causes your stomach to secrete too much acid, which can further increase damage from ulcers. If you have one or more of these conditions, talk to your healthcare provider about your risks for stomach ulcers. Living With Stomach Ulcers Most people with stomach ulcers that don't cause severe symptoms can successfully treat and overcome their stomach ulcers. If you have had ulcers in the past, taking preventive steps by avoiding smoking and excess alcohol intake can help reduce the risks for future stomach ulcers. Frequently Asked Questions How long does it take for an ulcer to heal? The time for an ulcer to heal depends on its severity. After treatments with proton pump inhibitors and antibiotics, the healing time may be between four and eight weeks. Learn More: 7 Medications That Can Help Heartburn and Other GERD Symptoms What can I eat if I have a stomach ulcer? Eating bland foods can help you when you have a stomach ulcer. Examples include bananas, rice, apples, and toast, which is known as the BRAT diet. Learn More: Foods That Can Make Your Stomach Feel Better What happens if stomach ulcers go untreated? Severe, untreated stomach ulcers can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding or stomach perforation. Learn More: 6 Medical Conditions That Cause Bloody Diarrhea Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit 7 Sources Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Kuna L, Jakab J, Smolic R, Raguz-Lucic N, Vcev A, Smolic M. Peptic ulcer disease: a brief review of conventional therapy and herbal treatment options. J Clin Med. 2019;8(2):179. doi:10.3390/jcm8020179 Quinones G, Woolf A. Duodenal ulcer. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Peptic ulcers (stomach and duodenal ulcers). Kavitt RT, Lipowska AM, Anyane-Yeboa A, Gralnek IM. Diagnosis and Treatment of Peptic Ulcer Disease. Am J Med. 2019;132(4):447-456. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2018.12.009 Dunlap JJ, Patterson S. Peptic ulcer disease. Gastroenterol Nurs. 2019;42(5):451-454. doi:10.1097/SGA.0000000000000478 Sadiq K, Rizwan B, Noreen S, et al. Determinants of peptic ulcer disease: A systematic review. EAS Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences. 2020;2(5). doi:10.26349.easinfs.2020.v02i02.003 Vakil, N. Peptic ulcer disease: treatment and secondary prevention. In: Feldman, M., Grover, S., eds. UpToDate. UpToDate; 2022.