Ulcers affect millions of people in the United States each year, resulting in plenty of hospital visits. The best way to treat an ulcer? Identifying its root cause. In order to find that root cause though, you first have to identify the ulcer in the first place.
What are the symptoms of ulcers?
So, what exactly are ulcers, and what are the signs that someone may have one? The first symptom is by far the most noticeable…
1. Dull Stomach Pain
Sharp pain may be present in some cases. Most of the time though, a blunt or dull ache in the abdominal region will plague the ulcer sufferer.
What is dull stomach pain?
Dull stomach pain is an uncomfortable feeling that can appear anywhere between the belly and breastbone. It is not a piercing or sharp pain. Rather, it is a constant discomfort that resembles a cramp.
Why do ulcers cause it?
When you suffer from an ulcer, the lining of your digestive tract is compromised. So, a stomach ache is the body’s way of informing the nervous system (and you) that something is wrong.
What are some signs of stomach aches?
A stomach ache is a common symptom of ulcers. The visual cue that patients exhibit is a clutching of their mid-section while slumping slightly forward. Of course, patients themselves can easily identify this symptom by feeling it.
The next symptom is one that’s a little trickier to spot, though…
2. Loss of Appetite
A loss of appetite is common when a medical condition interferes with the ability to comfortably digest food; ulcers are no exception.
What is appetite loss?
A loss of appetite means that someone does not eat as much as they normally do. This appetite loss could be because they no longer feel hungry or that it is too painful for them to eat, among other reasons.
Why do ulcers cause appetite loss?
The short answer
The digestive system tells the body that it shouldn’t eat. Why? Because introducing food into the digestive process can further aggravate the ulcer.
The long answer
It has to do with hormonal changes. You see, in a healthy individual, the hormones leptin and ghrelin regulate eating behavior. Leptin suppresses appetite whereas ghrelin increases it. Studies show that ghrelin levels drop in ulcer patients, which is a logical outcome of disrupting digestion. Therefore, ghrelin levels dropping naturally means a drop in appetite.
What are classic signs of appetite loss?
Classic signs of appetite loss include:
- Not wanting to eat as much as usual
- Actually eating less than usual
Now, appetite loss can naturally lead to the following sign of ulcers…
3. Unintended Weight Loss
Weight loss is directly related to the previous symptom. Namely, a loss of appetite can directly lead to weight loss.
What is unintentional weight loss?
Unintended weight loss is weight loss that is not the result of deliberate diet and exercise.
Why do ulcers cause weight loss?
As discussed in the previous slide, appetite loss is common for ulcer patients. As a result, people with ulcers will likely eat less than usual. That means taking in fewer calories than the body needs to function.
When someone doesn’t eat enough calories to meet their energy requirements, the body goes to the next best source of energy: body fat. In other words, the body starts burning up body fat as fuel. The result? Weight loss.
Is the weight loss rapid or gradual?
It will depend on the individual. For minor ulcers, the weight loss will likely be gradual. In severe cases, rapid weight loss may occur. Rapid weight loss is defined as losing at least 5% of your body weight within 6 months to a year.
Closely related to weight loss and loss of appetite is another tell-tale sign that ulcers may be present…
4. Feeling Full
Feeling full is a slightly counter-intuitive symptom of ulcers. After all, shouldn’t someone who is losing weight feel hungry? Not quite.
What is “feeling full”?
Feeling full simply means that someone does not feel the need to eat anymore; it’s the opposite sensation of feeling hungry.
Why do ulcers cause this sensation?
The short answer
The body makes the ulcer sufferer feel full so they are discouraged from eating. After all, putting food into the stomach could further irritate the ulcer.
The long answer
Creating the feeling of feeling full—even though someone hasn’t eaten—is a survival mechanism. Specifically, there are times when either someone can’t eat (e.g., lack of food) or or shouldn’t eat (e.g., ulcers). To dissuade someone from eating, the body creates the sensation of feeling full.
Not only will this sensation discourage eating, it can distract the person from hunger pains long enough to hopefully find a solution to the problem for why they cannot eat in the first place. Ulcers are merely the triggers for this response as they keep the sufferer from eating.
How will someone show this symptom?
Refraining from eating despite normally possessing a healthy appetite or stopping midway through meals can be signs of this symptom.
Of course, people can lose weight besides just not eating. Unfortunately, the following unpleasant condition is yet another sign that ulcers are to blame…
Other than through loss of appetite, ulcers can contribute to weight loss by inducing vomiting. Even if the sufferer attempts to consume food, the inflammation caused by the ulcer can cause the digestive system to respond violently (i.e., vomiting).
What is vomiting, exactly?
Vomiting, known medically as emesis, is the forced removal of the stomach’s contents through the esophagus and mouth or nose.
Does vomiting serve a purpose?
Despite how unpleasant it is, vomiting is an important bodily function. Why? Because sometimes dangerous or contaminated food, drink, or other substances enter the body. In some cases, these substances need to be removed immediately. Their exit strategy? Vomiting.
Sometimes, the body may only think it needs to expel food, even when it doesn’t, such as morning sickness during pregnancy. In these cases, fluctuating hormones are typically to blame.
Why do ulcers cause vomiting?
Ulcer irritation is enough to block the digestive pathway to food. Now, one way or another, food needs to exit the body. If the food cannot continue its journey through the intestines as waste? It comes back up the way it entered the body—through the mouth.
What are the signs that someone is about to vomit?
The most obvious signs that vomiting is about to occur include:
- Pain in the abdomen that sharpens
- Increased saliva in the mouth (to protect the teeth from stomach acid)
- Dry mouth
What will vomit caused by an ulcer look like?
Vomit that is bloody or looks like coffee grounds can point to an ulcer.
Of course, someone doesn’t just have to vomit to lose weight; merely the thought of potentially throwing up can be enough to dissuade someone from eating in the first place…
Nausea is no fun. It is an ominous feeling of uneasiness and discomfort that may or may not be accompanied by the pain associated with vomiting. Either way, nausea can be debilitating.
What exactly is nausea?
The human body has developed mechanisms to deal with unpleasant or even dangerous stimuli both within and outside the body. Nausea is one such mechanism.
Specifically, nausea is a response to let the body know that it needs to reject things that could lead to illness or discomfort, such as food poisoning, excessive consumption of alcohol, or, in the case of ulcers, stomach irritation.
In other words, nausea is the body’s way of preventing you from ingesting something that could be potentially dangerous.
Why do ulcers cause nausea?
Nausea is just another way for the body to tell you to not eat, as food could further irritate the ulcer.
What are common signs of nausea?
Dizziness and eventual vomiting are most commonly associated with nausea.
Now, sometimes someone won’t bring anything up when they attempt to vomit, which can lead to the following symptoms of stomach ulcers…
7. Heartburn and Burping
Heartburn and burping are related to the body’s attempts to combat ulcer discomfort.
What is heartburn?
Despite the name, heartburn isn’t related to the heart at all. Rather, it’s a result of built-up stomach acid making its way to the throat. Because this acid is so harsh, it can irritate the throat, causing the burning sensation that we know as heartburn.
What exactly is a burp, anyway?
Air trapped in the upper digestive tract cannot remain trapped forever. So, the body will sometimes attempt to rid itself of this excess air by pushing it back out of the mouth. We know this sensation as burping or belching.
Why do ulcers cause heartburn and burping?
The stomach is constantly producing acid to break down food; this breakdown is necessary so that the body can absorb the food into the bloodstream as nutrients. When the digestive tract is blocked (as a result of the body’s inflammatory response to the ulcer), acid builds up. As a result, it has nowhere to go but towards the esophagus.
This process can result in sensations like heartburn. It can also lead to burping if air is trapped.
Burping and heartburn are no fun. However, they are mostly just uncomfortable sensations. The following is a sure sign that you need to visit a doctor…
8. Dark Stool
What comes out of the mouth aren’t the only signs of ulcers…
What exactly is “dark stool”?
Stool is a clinical term for feces. Dark stool is stool that is dark, almost tarry, in appearance. Although a healthy individual’s stool can vary in color, ulcer sufferers’ excrement will exhibit an unnaturally dark color.
Why do ulcers cause dark stool?
Ulcers can cause bleeding in the stomach. That blood can wind up in stool, giving it a dark and tar-like appearance.
Ulcers or something else?
Dark stools alone cannot indicate ulcers. After all, black-colored stool can result from something as simple as consuming too many iron supplements. Whatever the cause, stool that remains consistently dark or at any time shows visible blood should be discussed with a doctor right away.
The following symptom of ulcers? It can leave one feeling exhausted 24-7…
Depending on the severity of the ulcer, a temporary or long-term case of anemia may occur.
What is anemia?
Anemia is a condition where the body doesn’t have enough red blood cells. Importantly, these cells carry oxygen to the body’s cells and tissues. A common type of anemia is iron deficiency anemia; it’s when anemia is caused by an iron deficiency. (Iron is necessary to produce red blood cells.)
Why do ulcers cause anemia?
Stomach ulcers can cause bleeding, which can result in a deficit in red blood cells—aka, anemia.
What are the signs of anemia?
Common signs of anemia include:
- Fatigue (excessive tiredness all the time)
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hair loss
- Brittle nails
The most uncomfortable ulcer symptom of them all?
So, just what is the most uncomfortable ulcer symptom of them all? It might just be the following…
Indigestion, or dyspepsia, is the classic symptom that ulcer sufferers experience.
What is indigestion?
Indigestion is a medical condition characterized by abdominal discomfort or pain that’s often accompanied by other symptoms.
Why do ulcers cause indigestion?
A common cause of many ulcers? Bacteria (or, a foreign invader). When the body notices a foreign invader, it ramps up the immune system. One of the first immune responses to foreign invaders? Inflammation.
While inflammation is important for fighting sickness, it can also cause unpleasant symptoms like indigestion.
What are signs of indigestion?
Indigestion often means:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Excessive gas
- Feeling full quickly
So, what’s most important for someone who thinks they have a stomach ulcer to know?…
Take Charge of Your Digestive Health
The best way to treat ulcers is to treat their underlying cause. However, this process first involves identifying an ulcer in the first place.
Because ulcers show symptoms so similar to many other conditions, it’s important to look for the previously mentioned signs clumped together. In other words, when these symptoms travel in packs, the case for ulcers strengthens.
What are some ways to prevent ulcers?
There is no one way to 100% prevent ulcers. There are, however, plenty of ways to effectively reduce the risk of developing ulcers in the future. Some of these methods include:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Not smoking
- Not abusing over-the-counter pain relievers
Only a doctor can diagnose ulcers.
The only sure-fire way to know if you have ulcers is to see a doctor. Once there, you can list your symptoms, which will help the practitioner make a more accurate diagnosis.