Skip to content
Font Size

Everyday Pain Relief: Ulcers

Many familiar over-the-counter pain relief drugs can cause harmful side effects for those with ulcers. Here's what you need to know.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

We tend to think of over-the-counter painkillers as perfectly safe. If you can buy a drug sitting next to the toothpaste and shampoo, how dangerous could it be?

But even these drugs do have risks. And if you have an ulcer, you need to be very careful before popping over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers. Many commonplace drugs - such as aspirin, Advil, and Aleve -- can irritate the stomach lining, aggravating ulcers and potentially causing serious problems.

Recommended Related to Digestive Disorders


Important It is possible that the main title of the report Diverticulosis is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.

Read the Diverticulosis article > >

"People think that if a medicine is available over-the-counter, it has no risks," says Byron Cryer, MD, a spokesman for the American Gastroenterological Association. "But about a third of all ulcers are caused by aspirin and other painkillers. More than half of all bleeding ulcers are caused by these drugs."

In fact, according to the American Gastroenterological Association, 103,000 people are hospitalized every year because of side effects from common painkillers. Some 16,500 people die.

The problem isn't only with OTC painkillers. Many remedies for colds, sinus problems, and even heartburn contain the same potentially dangerous ingredients.

If you have an ulcer, you need to avoid any foods or medicines that will make your condition worse. So, before you grab a bottle of pain reliever the next time you have a headache, learn some dos and don'ts first.

How Do Pain Relief Drugs Work?

In a certain way, all pain is in your head. When we feel pain, it's the result of an electrical signal being sent from the nerves in a part of your body to your brain.

But the whole process isn't electrical. When tissue is injured (by a sprained ankle, for instance), the cells release certain chemicals in response. These chemicals cause inflammation and amplify the electrical signal coming from the nerves. As a result, they increase the pain you feel.

Painkillers work by blocking the effects of these pain chemicals. The problem is that you can't focus most pain relievers specifically on your headache or bad back. Instead, it travels through your whole body. This can cause some unexpected side effects.

What Are the Risks for People With Ulcers?

Why do painkillers increase the risk of gastrointestinal (GI) problems? The same chemicals that amplify pain -- which some pain medicines block -- also help maintain the protective lining of the stomach and intestines. When a painkiller stops these chemicals from working, the digestive tract becomes more vulnerable to damage from gastric acids.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Today on WebMD

man holding his stomach
Get the facts on common problems.
blueberries in a palm
Best and worst foods.
woman shopping
Learn what foods to avoid.
fresh and dried plums
Will it help constipation?
top foods for probiotics
couple eating at cafe
sick child
Woman blowing bubble gum

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Woman with crohns in pain
Woman with stomach pain
diet for diverticulitis
what causes diarrhea