A peptic ulcer is a type of open sore that develops in the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum (upper part of the small intestine). Appropriate treatment is important to treat the disease and prevent its complications – especially true for ulcers in the stomach. If poorly treated, the disease may cause serious complications such as internal bleeding. But can you die from a bleeding ulcer?
How serious is it?
For many years, it’s was thought that excessive acid is the cause of the open sore (ulcer). But today we know that most cases of peptic ulcer are not caused by acid damage, though excess acid can worsen the disease.
In fact, the disease is often caused by the following factors:
- Helicobacter pylori, a kind of bacteria that commonly live in the stomach and small intestine. Though not all people with H-pylori infection develop ulcers, it’s common to find this bacterial infection in many patients with peptic ulcers.
- Regular use of pain relievers especially NSAIDs. Those medications can hurt the lining of the stomach and small intestine, leading to an open sore in long term.
Early diagnosis is important to treat the disease more effectively so the patient can have a complete recovery with no lingering after effects. Unfortunately, many people with the disease may not seek medical help until the symptoms become quite advanced. Even about three-quarters of all cases, there is no any early warning sign of the disease.
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 temporary 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.
In less common cases, the disease may also cause severe symptoms such as changes in appetite (such as appetite loss), trouble breathing, weight loss with unknown reason, dark blood (tarry) in the stools, feeling faint, or even vomiting blood.
Sometimes the disease turns into serious, causing 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.
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). Rarely, surgical treatments may be recommended especially if the disease has caused serious or life-threatening complications.
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! The bleeding may develop in the following ways:
- Slow, chronic long-term bleeding, causing anemia (a condition of when the body is at a low red blood cell count (lower than normal) due to inadequate iron). Sometimes patients may not notice this slowly bleeding until they become anemic.
- Severe bleeding that progresses rapidly. This kind of heavily bleeding is rare, but it is very dangerous if not immediately treated.
A bleeding ulcer is an emergency condition. It could be fatal without immediate prompt treatment, especially if you have rapid and severe bleeding. A rapid, heavily internal bleeding may cause a life-threatening hemorrhage!
Internal bleeding that continues without medical intervention could be very dangerous. Losing about one-third of the total blood could be enough to cause serious consequences such as the failure of some organs – or even a death if you lose one-half of your total blood.
The most important thing, 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:
- Appetite changes that doesn’t respond with lifestyle measures.
- Severe, persistent nausea and vomiting.
- You have increasing pain in your abdomen, especially if the pain lasts longer than what you expect.
- Severe, persistent abdominal distension.
- Mental confusion and feeling faint.
Other ulcer emergencies are as follows:
- Perforated ulcer. In rare cases, severe ulcer may eat a hole through the wall of stomach or intestine, making the lining split open. This is called perforation, a very serious condition that can put you at high risk of developing dangerous infection. The infection may also spread to the blood, causing sepsis and multiple organ failure. And this can occur very quickly and could be very fatal if not immediately treated (hospital admission is required)! If you have a sudden pain in the abdomen that gets steadily worse, seek immediate medical help!
- Digestive tract obstruction! The ulcer may cause swelling that become large enough to block the normal passage of food through the digestive system. Symptoms include persistent abdominal bloating, repeated vomiting undigested food, unintentional weight loss, and feeling fullness (even after eating smaller meal than usual).
Ulcer complications are preventable. With prompt treatment, the disease can be cured – especially if it hasn’t become advanced. But if serious complications of the disease occur, such as a perforation or acute-heavily bleeding, surgeries may be required.
The good news, surgical treatment is required far less often than before, because many effective non-surgical treatments are now available!
Furthermore, there is a chance for the disease to not heal after treatment. An ulcer that fails to heal is also known as a ‘refractory ulcer’. This may occur with the following factors:
- If you don’t take the full course of your antibiotics. It’s important to completely take your antibiotics (even though when the symptoms have relieved) to make sure the infection is completely cured.
- If you continue taking certain pain medications (NSAIDs) that can worsen the problem or trigger the recurrence.
- If you don’t stop smoking or practice other bad behaviors that inhibit your healing process – see also what to avoid with peptic ulcers in here!