What are the symptoms of a peptic ulcer?
Most people do not know that they have a peptic ulcer as ulcers often do not result in any symptoms. In some cases, a number of severe complications can arise, with bleeding being one of the most severe complications and this is then identified as the first evident sign of the ulcer’s presence.
The most prominent symptom, as stated, is a burning sensation in the stomach accompanied by abdominal pain.
This sensation is described further below:
- Abdominal pain is typically felt in the middle upper area of the belly (abdomen), being just below the chest and above the navel (belly button).
- The pain from a peptic ulcer is a gnawing or burning sensation that can even be felt through to one’s back at times.
- Peptic ulcer pain is normally worse during the early morning and at night.
- The pain can last between a couple of minutes up to a number of hours.
- Peptic ulcer pain is often temporarily relieved through vomiting, eating something or taking antacids, these are medications that aid in relieving the symptoms of indigestion.
- Abdominal pain is often accompanied by bloating, heartburn (also known as acid reflux) and indigestion.
Additional peptic ulcer symptoms may include the below:
- Loss of weight
- Loss of appetite
More severe ulcers can result in bleeding from the duodenum or stomach lining. This bleeding can sometimes be the only visible symptom of the peptic ulcer. The bleeding can occur slowly or rapidly. Rapid, or fast bleeding, may reveal itself through one of the following:
- Vomiting up dark material that resembles ground coffee or vomiting up blood. Should this occur, it is a health emergency and will require immediate medical attention.
- Finding blood in the stool or having tarry, black and sticky stools.
Bleeding that occurs slowly is harder to detect due to the symptoms being less prominent and dramatic. These ‘slow-bleed’ symptoms are as follows:
- Having a low blood cell count, this is known as anaemia (a reduced number of red blood cells).
The symptoms of anaemia are:
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Lethargy (lack of energy)
- Pallor (pale skin)
- Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
When to see a doctor regarding a peptic ulcer
- If there is a burning pain present in the upper stomach region and this is temporarily relieved through taking antacids or eating, then it is best to see your doctor. Remember, never assume that you have an ulcer as there are a number of other conditions, such as gastritis, that can result in the same symptoms.
- If you show any signs of internal (gastrointestinal) bleeding, such as vomiting blood, then you should see a doctor immediately. If peptic ulcers result in a large amount of bleeding, then you may need to have surgery or a blood transfusion. We will discuss the surgery options later in the treatment section.
- If there is any severe pain in your abdomen, so much so that it hurts to walk or move, then this may suggest that there is a tearing or perforation of the ulcer, which is a medical emergency and surgery will be required to repair the hole in the digestive lining.
- Abdominal pain or vomiting can also be an indication of a complication such as an obstruction. This may also require surgery.
What is the name of the specialist who treats peptic ulcers?
If you think you have an ulcer or are diagnosed with one, then this consultation will initially be conducted by your family doctor. If you need further treatment, then it is likely that you will be referred to and treated by a gastroenterologist, this is someone who specialises in the disorders of the gastrointestinal (digestive) tract.
If there is an emergency situation present, such as severe belly pain or vomiting blood, then you may be assessed by the specialist on duty in the emergency room. A general surgeon can sometimes perform an emergency surgery when one is needed, this is, however, not commonly seen.