A peptic ulcer (stomach ulcer) is a sore in the lining of your stomach or upper small intestine. Ulcers form when the protective layer in the lining has broken down, often because of a bacterial infection or frequent use of aspirin or similar medicine.
Peptic ulcers can cause pain in the belly, above the belly button. Ulcers can also bleed.
How are peptic ulcers treated?
To treat peptic ulcers, most people need to take medicines that reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. If you have an H. pylori infection, you will also need to take antibiotics.
You can help speed the healing of your ulcer and prevent it from coming back if you quit smoking and limit alcohol. If you keep using medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, you may increase the chance of your ulcer coming back.
Surgery is rarely used to treat an ulcer. But if your ulcer doesn't heal, or if you have life-threatening complications, you may need surgery.
Ignoring symptoms of an ulcer isn't a good idea. An ulcer needs to be treated. While symptoms can go away for a short time, you may still have an ulcer. Left untreated, an ulcer can cause life-threatening problems. Even with treatment, some ulcers may come back and may need more treatment.
When to call
Peptic ulcer disease: When to call
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
- You pass maroon or very bloody stools.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have new or worse belly pain.
- Your stools are black and look like tar, or they have streaks of blood.
- You vomit.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You do not get better as expected.
How can you care for yourself when you have a peptic ulcer?
- Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
- Do not take aspirin or other NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Ask your doctor what you can take for pain.
- Do not smoke. Smoking can make ulcers worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
- Drink in moderation or avoid drinking alcohol.
- Eat a balanced diet of small, frequent meals. See a dietitian if you need help planning your meals.
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.