Diagnosis of Peptic Ulcers (Stomach or Duodenal Ulcers)
How do doctors diagnose a peptic ulcer?
Medical and family history
To help diagnose peptic ulcers and check for factors that cause ulcers, your doctor will take a medical and family history. Your doctor may ask about
- your symptoms
- your medical history, including any past peptic ulcers or Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections
- medicines you take, especially nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- your family history of peptic ulcers, H. pylori infection, or cancer in the digestive tract
A physical exam may help a doctor diagnose peptic ulcers or ulcer complications. During a physical exam, a doctor most often
- checks for swelling in your abdomen
- listens to sounds within your abdomen using a stethoscope
- taps on your abdomen checking for tenderness or pain
What tests do doctors use to diagnose peptic ulcers?
Doctors may order medical tests to help diagnose peptic ulcers, find the cause, and check for complications.
Doctors may use blood tests to check for signs of H. pylori infection or complications of peptic ulcers. For a blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from you and send the sample to a lab.
Urea breath test
Doctors may use a urea breath test to check for H. pylori infection. For the test, you will swallow a capsule, liquid, or pudding that contains urea “labeled” with a special carbon atom. If H. pylori is present, the bacteria will convert the urea into carbon dioxide. After a few minutes, you will breathe into a container, exhaling carbon dioxide.
A health care professional will test your exhaled breath. If the test detects the labeled carbon atoms, the health care professional will confirm an H. pylori infection in your digestive tract.
Doctors may use stool tests to check for H. pylori infection. Your doctor will give you a container for catching and holding a stool sample. You will receive instructions on where to send or take the kit for testing.
Upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy and biopsy
Doctors may order an upper GI endoscopy to confirm the diagnosis of a peptic ulcer and try to find its cause.
For an upper GI endoscopy, a doctor uses an endoscope—a flexible tube with a camera—to see the lining of your upper GI tract, including your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. During upper GI endoscopy, a doctor obtains biopsies by passing an instrument through the endoscope to take small pieces of tissue from your stomach lining. A pathologist will examine the tissue under a microscope.
Upper GI series
In some cases, doctors may order an upper GI series to help diagnose peptic ulcers or ulcer complications. Upper GI series uses x-rays and a chalky liquid you swallow called barium to view your upper GI tract.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
(NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.