Can You Die from A Bleeding Ulcer?

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Can you die from a bleeding ulcer? A peptic ulcer is an open sore that develops in the soft lining of the gastric or duodenum (your upper section of the small intestine) – could be fatal if left untreated. Appropriate treatment plan is crucial to treat the disease and promote a cure more likely. But if it’s poorly treated, you may experience serious complications (internal bleeding for example).

How serious is it?

Several decades ago, excessive acid was to blame for primary cause of ulcer. But today scientists know that acid damage is not the main culprit

In most cases, it has to do with the following causes [1]:

  1. Helicobacter pylori infection. Not all people with this infection develop ulcer, but in fact it’s common in people with ulcer.
  2. Long-term use of NSAIDs (pain relievers). Some NSAIDs may interfere with the function of Cox-1 enzyme, making ulcers more likely to form.

However it’s still important for patients with ulcer to manage their stomach acid level since excess acid can provoke ulcer symptoms and make the open sore take longer to heal!

As with most medical conditions, early diagnosis and early treatment are important to treat the open sore before it becomes advanced (when it’s more difficult to treat)! With comprehensive treatment plan, it’s likely possible to provide a complete cure without causing lingering after effects.

But the disease doesn’t always cause signs and symptoms until it progresses to become quite advanced. Even nearly 75 percent of all cases don’t have early symptoms. This is probably the answer of why many people don’t seek medical help when the disease is most likely curable.

The ulcer symptoms may vary from person to person. But the most common one (in many cases) is burning, abdominal pain – especially in the upper abdominal area. The pain usually worsens when your stomach is empty (between meals or at night), and may temporarily relieve when you eat something that can buffer your stomach acid.

Other symptoms include belching, abdominal bloating, feeling of fullness, frequent acid reflux (heartburn), nausea, and fatty food intolerance!

Depending on the severity of ulcer, it’s also possible for the disease to cause more severe symptoms (in less common cases). Some of these symptoms could be loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, trouble breathing (like shortness of breath), vomiting with blood, stools containing blood, and feeling faint.

If the disease turns into serious, this would cause a number of serious complications. Therefore, it’s necessary to treat it completely, even though if you have the mild one that isn’t causing any problems.

With prompt treatment, uncomplicated ulcers often heal without leaving serious problems, regardless of the cause. But there is also a chance for the open sore to come back, especially if the underlying cause (H-pylori infection for example) is not entirely treated. The good news, recurring ulcers associated with re-infectious cause are not common.

The course of treatment is dependent on the underlying cause, symptoms, and severity of the disease.

If the disease is caused by H-pylori infection, antibiotic medications are usually used to cure the infection. Other medications include antacids (to help neutralize stomach and relieve some ulcer symptoms), proton pump inhibitors (to block acid secretion and promote quick healing), or cytoprotective agents (to help give extra protection to the lining of the stomach and intestine) [2].

Rarely, surgical treatments may be recommended especially if the disease has caused serious or life-threatening complications.

So, can you die from a bleeding ulcer?

Ulcer complications are quite rare (not common). But some can be very dangerous or even life-threatening if they occur. One of them is internal bleeding, which is also the most common complication of the disease.

You’re more likely to have a bleeding ulcer if you have an ulcer that forms at the site of a blood vessel! This internal bleeding may occur in a couple of different ways, some of these are as follows:

  1. Chronic (slow) long-term bleeding. This can cause anemia, a condition in which your body has low red blood cell count. Since this bleeding occurs slowly and gradually, you’re probably not aware to the decline until you become anemic.
  2. In rare cases, the bleeding could be severe (acute) in which it occurs rapidly. It’s an emergency situation and immediate treatment is necessary.

Bleeding ulcer is a serious condition. It could be fatal without immediate prompt treatment, especially if you experience rapid and severe bleeding.

A rapid, heavily internal bleeding may cause a life-threatening hemorrhage! You could have serious consequences (including organs failure or even death) if you’ve lost about one-third of your total blood volume [3].

Fortunately, the mortality rate associated with peptic ulcer disease (including for its bleeding) in the last few decades has decreased modestly. The risk for death is probably about 1 out of every 100,000 cases. However worldwide, the mortality rate from ulcer bleeding is still pretty scary about 5-10 percent [4].

So seek medical help immediately if you have any symptom of a bleeding ulcer!

Some symptoms of anemia caused by chronic ulcer’s bleeding may include tiredness (fatigue), pale skin, trouble breathing (breathlessness), and rapid-pounding heart (heart palpitations).

Severe, quick internal bleeding may cause lightheadedness, vomiting blood (like coffee grounds), or passing bloody stools (sticky-tarry stools).

Also, be aware to the following other ulcer emergency signs and symptoms:

  1. Appetite changes that doesn’t respond with lifestyle measures.
  2. Severe, persistent nausea and vomiting.
  3. You have increasing pain in your abdomen, especially if the pain lasts longer than what you expect.
  4. Severe, persistent abdominal distension.
  5. Mental confusion and feeling faint.

Besides bleeding, other ulcer emergencies are as follows: