10 Signs of an Ulcer You Should Never Ignore
Pay attention to these ulcer symptoms and talk to your doctor if you’re concerned they’re pointing to something serious.
You have pain specifically in your upper abdomen
One of the most common ulcer symptoms is a severe pain in the upper abdomen, according to Neil Sengupta, MD, a gastroenterology specialist at the University of Chicago. Ulcers can develop anywhere in the upper digestive track, but Dr. Sengupta says we often think about those occurring in the stomach or small intestine, where we feel pain. This pain usually occurs between the breastbone and belly button, and can bring on a burning, aching, or dull feeling. The sensation may begin as a light, mild pain but often progresses into something more serious as the ulcers develop. Find out what other types of stomach pains might mean.
You feel nauseous
One of the other telltale ulcer symptoms is feeling nauseous, Dr. Sengupta says. According to the website RM Healthy, ulcers alter the chemistry of digestive fluids in your stomach, causing you to feel a bit queasy, especially in the morning. While digesting food is often a painful feat when you have an ulcer, many patients report that having a little grub in your stomach can help the nausea subside. Here are other home remedies for an upset stomach you can try.
You’ve had unexplained vomiting
From time to time, the nausea brought on by ulcers may become so intense that it could actually cause you to vomit. Frequent vomiting is never a fun experience, but whatever you do, stay away from medications like ibuprofen and aspirin when treating the condition and other ulcer symptoms. According to Dr. Sengupta, these over-the-counter pain medications actually put you at a higher risk of developing ulcers, and can make your current ulcers worse.
You bleed when you use the bathroom
Blood coming from the gastrointestinal track can signal a variety of underlying health issues, but Dr. Sengupta says when this bleeding is combined with upper abdominal pain, he’s “highly suspicious” that it’s one of the signs of an ulcer. Many patients notice this blood either when vomiting, or when using the bathroom, as their stools may appear black. If you notice you’re suffering from a bleeding GI track, along with nausea and pain in the stomach or chest, Dr. Sengupta says doctors will often perform a blood test or an upper endoscopy—where they use a camera to look into the stomach itself—to check if an ulcer is the culprit. Blood in your stool can also be due to hemorrhoids or a symptom of colon cancer, so it’s a good idea to get checked out by your doctor. Don’t miss these other signs of colon cancer you might be missing.
You have heartburn at most meals
If you find yourself experiencing frequent heartburn, regardless of what you eat, an ulcer may be responsible. Many patients with ulcers describe feeling very intense chest pain, which often causes them to burp or hiccup more than usual after eating. In many cases, a simple over-the-counter antacid can be taken to temporarily alleviate some of the pain and gassiness (you could also try these 13 natural remedies for heartburn), but if it persists day after day, it’s likely something more than a regular case of heartburn. Learn about other scary chest pains sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.
You’re more bloated than usual
If you notice your stomach feeling particularly bloated, it may be more serious than a little bit of gas—it could be one of the signs of an ulcer. According to RM Healthy, bloating is often one of the earliest ulcer symptoms, with patients especially complaining of pain in their midsection. Of course, bloating can also be caused simply by eating something your body doesn’t agree with or not drinking enough water, but when combined with these other symptoms, it’s worth checking out. Find out how to tell if you should worry about your belly bloat.
Your appetite went MIA
For many patients with ulcers, the condition can actually result in a loss of appetite. This drop in food intake, combined with occasional vomiting, may lead to unexpected weight loss. Some ulcer patients report eating their normal amount of food, yet still lose weight, so the ulcer itself may cause a drop on the scale, too. Don’t miss these other serious health conditions that cause unexpected weight loss.
You’re feeling weirdly hungry
Even though ulcers tend to kill the appetite, the pain they cause between the belly button and chest—usually one to three hours after eating—is sometimes mistaken for hunger. Eating might relieve the pain if it’s a stomach ulcer, but not if the ulcer is in the lower intestine. Don’t miss these other medical reasons you can’t stop eating.
You’ve had back pain
You might associate ulcers with the stomach and small intestine, but the pain can travel to your back. “If the ulcer has penetrated through the bowel wall, the pain can become more intense, longer in duration, and harder to alleviate,” gastroenterologist Shilpa Ravella, MD, tells Women’s Health. Find out what to do if you wake up with back pain.
You keep burping
Indigestion is one of the most common ulcer symptoms, and that can take the form of belching. Talk to your doctor if you’ve been burping more than usual and experiencing any of the other symptoms listed here. Find out how to tell if your symptoms are one of the signs of ulcerative colitis in the large intestine.