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 tract, says Dr. Sengupta, but we often think about those occurring in the stomach or small intestine, where we feel pain. This ulcer pain often occurs when your stomach is empty and can come and go for as long as several months. Find out what other types of stomach pains might mean.
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. If that happens, stay away from medications like ibuprofen and aspirin. According to Dr. Sengupta, these over-the-counter pain medications actually put you at a higher risk of developing ulcers—or make your current ulcers worse.
You bleed when you use the bathroom
Blood coming from the gastrointestinal tract 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 this blood, 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 chest pain
Some patients with ulcers describe chest pain, a term called “non-cardiac chest pain,” which refers to pain in the area that’s not caused by a heart attack or heart disease, per Cleveland Clinic. The discomfort is commonly caused by a GI problem, though it can also stem from stress or anxiety. In many cases, a simple over-the-counter antacid can be taken to temporarily alleviate some of the pain and gassiness, or you could also try these 13 natural remedies for heartburn.
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. Of course, bloating can also be caused simply by eating something your body doesn’t agree with, 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
Another less common, but possible, ulcer symptom is weight loss, per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. You may notice your appetite is off and stomach discomfort makes it hard to eat. This drop in food intake, combined with occasional vomiting, may lead to unexpected weight loss. Don’t miss these other serious health conditions that cause unexpected weight loss.
You’re feeling weirdly hungry
You’d think that an ulcer would kill your appetite, but some people feel this burning or gnawing sensation in their stomach weirdly as hunger. The pain may briefly stop after you’ve had something to eat. 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 believe it or not, some people report that the pain travels into their back. If that happens, it can make your symptoms all the more confusing. Find out what to do if you wake up with back pain.
You keep burping
Belching is a less common symptom of an ulcer, but your doctor might be suspicious of one if it’s accompanied by the others on this list. Talk to your doctor if you’ve been burping more than usual; ulcer or not, it can be a disruptive symptom that your PCP will want to get to the bottom of. Find out how to tell if your symptoms are one of the signs of ulcerative colitis.
- Neil Sengupta, MD, a gastroenterology specialist at the University of Chicago.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Symptoms & Causes of Peptic Ulcers (Stomach Ulcers).”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Symptoms & Causes of GI Bleeding.”
- Cleveland Clinic: “GERD: Non-Cardiac Chest Pain.”
- Merck Manual: “Peptic Ulcer Disease.”
- UW Health: “Peptic Ulcer Disease.”