Symptoms & Causes of Peptic Ulcers (Stomach Ulcers)
In this section:
- What are the symptoms of a peptic ulcer?
- What causes a peptic ulcer?
- How do NSAIDs cause a peptic ulcer?
- How do H. pylori cause a peptic ulcer and peptic ulcer disease?
- How do tumors from ZES cause peptic ulcers?
- When should you call or see a doctor?
What are the symptoms of a peptic ulcer?
A dull or burning pain in your stomach is the most common symptom of a peptic ulcer. You may feel the pain anywhere between your belly button and breastbone. The pain most often
- happens when your stomach is empty—such as between meals or during the night
- stops briefly if you eat or if you take antacids
- lasts for minutes to hours
- comes and goes for several days, weeks, or months
Less common symptoms may include
- feeling sick to your stomach
- poor appetite
- weight loss
Even if your symptoms are mild, you may have a peptic ulcer. You should see your doctor to talk about your symptoms. Without treatment, your peptic ulcer can get worse.
What causes a peptic ulcer?
Causes of peptic ulcers include
- long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- an infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
- rare cancerous and noncancerous tumors in the stomach, duodenum, or pancreas—known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
Sometimes peptic ulcers are caused by both NSAIDs and H. pylori.
How do NSAIDs cause a peptic ulcer?
To understand how NSAIDs cause peptic ulcer disease, it is important to understand how NSAIDs work. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduce pain, fever, and inflammation, or swelling.
Everyone has two enzymes that produce chemicals in your body’s cells that promote pain, inflammation, and fever. NSAIDs work by blocking or reducing the amount of these enzymes that your body makes. However, one of the enzymes also produces another type of chemical that protects the stomach lining from stomach acid and helps control bleeding. When NSAIDs block or reduce the amount of this enzyme in your body, they also increase your chance of developing a peptic ulcer.
How do H. pylori cause a peptic ulcer and peptic ulcer disease?
H. pylori are spiral-shaped bacteria that can cause peptic ulcer disease by damaging the mucous coating that protects the lining of the stomach and duodenum. Once H. pylori have damaged the mucous coating, powerful stomach acid can get through to the sensitive lining. Together, the stomach acid and H. pylori irritate the lining of the stomach or duodenum and cause a peptic ulcer.
How do tumors from ZES cause peptic ulcers?
Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is a rare disorder that happens when one or more tumors form in your pancreas and duodenum. The tumors release large amounts of gastrin, a hormone that causes your stomach to produce large amounts of acid. The extra acid causes peptic ulcers to form in your duodenum and in the upper intestine.
When should you call or see a doctor?
You should call or see your doctor right away if you
- feel weak or faint
- have difficulty breathing
- have red blood in your vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- have red blood in your stool or black stools
- have sudden, sharp stomach pain that doesn’t go away
These symptoms could be signs that a peptic ulcer has caused a more serious problem.
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.