Your Health A-Z

Could you have a stomach ulcer?

We look at the causes and treatments of stomach ulcers.

Elanor Jacobs experienced a dull burning sensation in her stomach, but just attributed it to the stress she was experiencing at her new job. When the pain got more intense, she lost her appetite because her stomach would hurt if she ate anything. When she eventually saw her GP, she told Elanor that she had a stomach ulcer and that her immune system was run down as a result.

Stomach ulcers are painful sores found on the stomach lining or small intestine and are the most visible sign of a peptic ulcer disease. It is caused by an irritation in the lining of the stomach or upper intestine, often from a bacterial infection. Fortunately there is a wide range of treatment options to treat both the root causes and the symptoms.

What are the symptoms of a stomach ulcer?

Symptoms include a dull pain in the stomach, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, lack of appetite, weight loss and vomiting. Some patients may find that the pain subsides when they eat, drink or take antacids. Another sign of a stomach ulcer is feeling bloated or gassy after eating high fat or spicy foods.

A stomach ulcer forms when the stomach mucus lining decreases, usually because of an infection with the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium. Some people may be more prone to this type of infection, including smokers and drinkers or people who overuse certain medications or have lowered immunity.

How to treat a stomach ulcer

If your stomach ulcer is a result of H.pylori, antibiotics will treat the root cause.

For mild to moderate stomach ulcers, your doctor will prescribe H2 blockers to prevent your stomach from producing too much acid. Proton pump inhibitors help to block the cells that produce acid, while over-the-counter antacids can help to neutralise the stomach acid. Cytoprotective agents protect the lining of the stomach and small intestine by increasing gastric mucus secretion.

Elanor’s doctor recommended a gastric protective agent that acts as a barrier against stomach acid and bile salts. She also suggested some lifestyle adjustments, such as not drinking coffee on an empty stomach and reducing stress levels.

Prevention is better than cure

To prevent the onset of an ulcer, wash your hands on a regular basis with soap and water as this reduces the risk of bacterial infection. When preparing food, ensure all ingredients have been properly cleaned and thoroughly cooked.

Other changes include cutting down on smoking and drinking and ensuring that your immunity is at peak performance by eating and sleeping well.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.