What Causes Stomach Ulcers?

Most people can instantly know when they are suffering from ulcers in their mouth. But knowing when you have ulcers in the stomach can be a bit trickier in comparison.

They are far from uncommon as an estimated 25 million Americans will experience a stomach ulcer at some point during in their life according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ulcers occur when the protective layer of mucus in the stomach is reduced, leaving tissues vulnerable to strong digestive acids. Not surprisingly, the primary indicator of this is burning abdominal pain, especially on an empty stomach.

You may also experience fatigue, nausea or vomiting, weight loss, acid reflux, and other such symptoms. Since the signs are rather vague, it is important to receive a diagnosis from a health professional. But first, it helps to understand — what is it that leads to stomach ulcers?

There are two main causes of ulcers in the United States, said Shipla Ravella, M.D., a gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center. The first is a bacterial infection known as H. pylori

The second long-term use of nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids — these would include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and other such medications.

Experiencing a serious injury, illness, or undergoing surgery can raise the risk of developing an infection leading to stomach ulcers. You may wonder if there are certain groups of foods to be avoided, just in case they lead to gastric ulcers. But this is only a myth according to Dr. Quin Liu from the Interventional Gastroenterology program at Cedars-Sinai.

"Foods themselves do not cause ulcers, but certain foods can cause typical symptoms of ulcers such as abdominal pain, burning sensation in the abdomen or chest area, or any abdominal discomfort," Dr. Liu explained.

While psychological stress does not lead to ulcers either, it can certainly worsen existing ones just like spicy foods. It is known that wound healing can slow down when the body produces stress hormones in excess, making it a good idea to prioritize self-care as much as possible.

After you are diagnosed, the doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria. You may also have to take stomach-acid-blocking medications to ease symptoms.

It is important to seek treatment for an ulcer as soon as possible. If left without intervention, it can cause significant problems such as unbearable pain or bleeding. According to Healthline, bleeding ulcers can be life-threatening.

When this happens, you may notice blood in your vomit or find that your stool is abnormally dark. "Both are signs that require urgent and emergent medical attention," noted Sophie Balzora, M.D., a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center.