A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of your stomach or the top part of your small intestine. These ulcers usually cause burning pain. They also can cause bloating, nausea, vomiting, and other uncomfortable symptoms that can make you less hungry and mess with your sleep.
Too much stomach acid or a problem with the lining that protects your stomach can lead to peptic ulcers. Most of the time, they’re caused by using certain painkillers too often or by a type of bacteria called H. pylori. These bacteria inflame your stomach lining and make it more likely to tear.
While stress and spicy foods can make symptoms of a peptic ulcer worse, they don’t seem to make you more likely to have one. But a few other things can raise your chances.
Be Careful When You Take Pain Relievers
Some people who have arthritis or other conditions that cause chronic pain take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for weeks or months at a time to ease pain and swelling. These medicines can affect the mucus that protects your stomach against acid and make you more likely to have peptic ulcers.
These pain relievers include:
You're more likely to get an ulcer while taking one of these if you:
- Are over age 65
- Are infected with H. pylori bacteria
- Take more than one NSAID at a time
- Have had a peptic ulcer in the past
- Also take a steroid drug or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI)
To lower your chances for peptic ulcers while you take NSAIDs:
- Use the lowest possible dose to control your symptoms, and stop taking them as soon as you no longer need them.
- Take your medicine with food.
- Don't drink alcohol while you’re taking these medicines.
While you're on NSAIDs, you can take medicine to lower the amount of acid your stomach makes. Drugs that can do that include:
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like esomeprazole (Nexium), omeprazole (Prilosec OTC), and pantoprazole (Protonix)
- H2 blockers such as cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), and nizatidine
Don’t Smoke, and Limit Alcohol
These two habits make you more likely to get peptic ulcers. Both thin the mucus lining that protects your stomach from acid, leading to more acid.
Stress can make the symptoms of a peptic ulcer worse. Figure out what’s causing issues for you and see how you can deal with it better. For example, getting enough sleep can help with that. It also can boost your immune system.
Millions of bacteria normally live in your gut. Some, like H. pylori, cause disease. Others are good for you because they help crowd out harmful bacteria. These helpful bacteria are called probiotics.
They’re still being studied, but researchers think they may help with peptic ulcers. You can find them in foods like these:
- Dairy products that have live cultures, like yogurt, kefir, and aged cheeses
Prevent H. pylori Infection
About two-thirds of people around the world have this type of infection, but most don’t get ulcers because of it. Doctors don’t know how you can avoid H. pylori, but they think it spreads from person to person or through food or water.
You can do some things to make an infection less likely:
- Wash your hands often during the day with warm water and soap so you don't catch or spread H. pylori bacteria. Clean your hands before you eat and after you go to the bathroom. If you don't have soap and water close by, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cook meat and other foods all the way through.
- Only drink water that you know is clean.