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Peptic ulcer - Symptoms of stomach ulcer

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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The most common symptom of a stomach ulcer is a burning or gnawing pain that develops in your abdomen (tummy). The pain can also travel up to your neck, down to your navel (belly-button) or through to your back.

The pain associated with a stomach ulcer is caused by the ulcer itself and stomach acid that comes into contact with the ulcer and irritates it.  

The pain can last from a few minutes to a few hours.

You may find pain starts soon after eating a meal. If the ulcer is in your small intestine (duodenal ulcer), pain may start two to three hours after eating so it may wake you up during the night.

Eating more food and taking antacids (indigestion medication) can often help relieve the pain of a duodenal ulcer, but not usually the pain of a stomach ulcer.

Less common symptoms of a stomach ulcer include:

Some people also find they can no longer tolerate eating fatty foods.

Stomach ulcers often do not cause typical symptoms and occasionally do not cause any pain at all. Which means it's possible to get a complication, such as bleeding, without feeling pain beforehand. 

When to seek medical advice

You should always visit your GP if you suspect you have a stomach ulcer. While there are treatments available over the counter from pharmacies that provide temporary relief, they will not treat the underlying causes.

When to seek urgent medical advice

Symptoms can develop if a stomach ulcer suddenly causes serious complications, such as internal bleeding. These include:

  • vomiting blood - the blood can appear bright red or have a dark brown, grainy appearance similar to coffee grounds
  • passing black tar-like stools
  • a sudden, sharp pain in your stomach that gets steadily worse and does not improve

If you experience these symptoms, you should contact your GP immediately. If this is not possible, contact your local out-of-hours service or call NHS 111.

Medical Review: July 17, 2013
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