Could I Have an Ulcer and Not Know It?


Most people experience some type of stomach discomfort from time to time. But for about 10% of US adults, abdominal pain is caused by a gastric or peptic ulcer

Ulcers are sores or lesions that develop on your stomach or small intestine. Your digestive system makes a special kind of mucus to protect your stomach and digestive tract from stomach acid. 

When this mucus layer gets worn away, the acid from your stomach can damage these tissues. Over time, the repeated irritation from these harsh acids can cause an ulcer to form. 

These lesions have different causes, including a bacteria called H. pylori and the use of certain medications, especially aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications, such as ibuprofen, and aspirins.

Factors like being older, using steroids, drinking alcohol, and smoking increase your risk of developing this condition. Spicy food and stress can promote the release of stomach acid and make the symptoms of your ulcers worse. 

Unfortunately, because so many issues can trigger stomach pain, many people struggle with ulcers and simply don’t realize it. This delay in treatment can lead to serious complications, including internal bleeding, digestive obstruction, stomach perforation, and gastric cancer. 

The good news is that the team of board-certified internal medicine providers at Prima Medicine in Fairfax, Merrifield, & South Riding, Virginia, specialize in diagnosing ulcers and recommending the most effective treatments to address the underlying cause. 

Take a moment to learn some common signs of ulcers so you can better determine if an ulcer is what’s causing your discomfort. 

You’re experiencing dull, burning stomach pain

If you’re experiencing dull, burning stomach pain, it could be the most common sign of an ulcer, especially if you notice additional symptoms. Ulcers usually trigger this type of pain when your stomach is empty, usually in between meals or right before mealtime. While this type of pain only lasts minutes for some people, for others, the burning sensation lasts for hours. 

You have frequent heartburn 

Have you started having frequent heartburn episodes or noticed that you’re getting indigestion even when you don’t overeat? It could be an ulcer. 

Ulcers can cause stomach acid to flow up into your esophagus, leading to a burning feeling in your chest. For some people, this feeling develops at the top of the stomach.  

You get nauseous a lot

If you’re feeling nauseous or even vomiting, an ulcer could be the culprit. These lesions can make you feel sick to your stomach, especially if you go a long time between meals or first thing in the morning. 

This is because the ulcers trigger stomach contractions due to the inflammation they cause. On an empty stomach, these contractions cause nausea, and if they are strong enough, they can make you throw up.   

You’re losing weight and don’t know why

Losing weight for unknown reasons can be a sign of a stomach ulcer. This is usually because the other symptoms associated with a stomach ulcer can cause you to have less of an appetite. 

But for some people, the inflammation caused by an ulcer blocks the digestive system, preventing food from moving through your system as quickly. As a result, you feel less hungry and start to lose weight.

Your poop looks different

Changes in stool, like very dark or black poop, can be a sign of a bleeding ulcer. That’s because digested blood turns dark after moving through your system. Don’t wait to schedule an appointment with a Prima Medicine provider if you notice this symptom as it requires immediate medical attention. 

Getting effective help for your ulcer

At Prima Medicine, our internal medicine providers evaluate your symptoms, review your medical history, and conduct a physical exam to accurately diagnose the cause of your discomfort. 

If they suspect an ulcer, your internal medicine practitioner may order an endoscopy to take pictures and collect tissue samples or other tests to uncover the root cause of your ulcer. These may include tests like a stool test, breath test, or blood test to look for signs of the bacteria linked to the development of ulcers.  

Depending on the underlying cause of the ulcer, your Prima Medicine internist creates a personalized ulcer treatment plan. This may include:

  • Antibiotics to eliminate H. pylori bacteria
  • Medications to reduce stomach acid
  • Lifestyle changes, like dietary changes, quitting smoking and alcohol, or stress management
  • Surgery in severe cases

If you’re concerned you may have an ulcer and not realize it, don’t wait to seek help from a skilled internal medicine provider. Schedule an appointment at the Prima Medicine Northern Virginia location nearest you. 

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