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Overview - Stomach ulcer

Stomach ulcers, also known as gastric ulcers, are sores that develop on the lining of the stomach.

You can also get ulcers in part of the intestine just beyond the stomach, which are called duodenal ulcers.

Stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers (sometimes called peptic ulcers) cause the same symptoms and treatment for both is the same.

Signs and symptoms

The most common symptom of a stomach ulcer is a burning or gnawing pain in the centre of the tummy (abdomen).

But stomach ulcers aren't always painful and some people may experience other symptoms, such as indigestionheartburn and acid reflux and feeling sick.

When to seek medical advice

You should visit your GP if you think you may have a stomach ulcer.

Contact your GP or NHS 111 immediately if:

  • you are passing dark, sticky, tar-like stools
  • you have a sudden, sharp pain in your tummy that gets steadily worse

Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or call 999 if:

  • you are vomiting blood – the blood can appear bright red or have a dark brown, grainy appearance, similar to coffee grounds

These could be a sign of a serious complication, such as internal bleeding.

Causes of stomach ulcers

Stomach ulcers happen when there’s damage to the layer that protects the stomach lining from the acids in your stomach.

This is usually a result of:

  • an infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria
  • taking anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin – particularly if they're taken for a long time or at high doses

It used to be thought that stress or certain foods might cause stomach ulcers, but there's little evidence to suggest this is the case.

Stomach ulcers can affect anyone but are more common in people aged 60 or over. Men are more affected than women.

How stomach ulcers are treated

Treatment will depend on what caused the ulcer.

Most people will be prescribed a medication called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) to reduce the amount of acid in their stomach.

You’ll also need antibiotics if your ulcers were caused by a H. pylori infection.

Stomach ulcers can come back after treatment, although this is less likely to happen if the underlying cause is addressed.

Possible complications

Complications of stomach ulcers are relatively uncommon, but they can be very serious and potentially life threatening.

The main complications include:

  • bleeding at the site of the ulcer
  • the stomach lining at the site of the ulcer splitting open (perforation)
  • the ulcer blocking the movement of food through the digestive system (gastric obstruction)

Read more about the complications of stomach ulcers.

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Page last reviewed: 14 January 2022
Next review due: 14 January 2025