First off, side effects are a medical term used to describe adverse effects (unexpected /unwanted effects) caused by medications. So it’s not appropriate to say side effects of stomach ulcers. Because ulcers are a medical condition (they’re not medical treatment)!
Instead, it’s best to say symptoms of stomach ulcers — not ‘side effects’!
As the name implies, stomach ulcer is a kind of peptic ulcer disease (open sore) that form in the lining of the gastric (stomach). And ‘yes’ the disease has several signs and symptoms.
What does stomach ulcer do to your body?
The location of stomach in the body is on the left side of your upper abdomen. This muscular organ accepts food from the upper organs (mouth and esophagus).
As food gets into the end of your esophagus, it weighs down into the stomach through the lower esophageal sphincter (a special flexible muscular valve). Then your stomach digests food to process what you eat!
To support this digestive process, your stomach releases enzymes and acid. The stomach has ‘rugae’ (ridges of muscle tissue) so it can contract periodically to respond digestion.
Since the stomach is responsible to churn and digest food, plus highly exposure to acidic digestive juice – it’s possible for the stomach lining to get hurt from this process. Thankfully, the lining is supported and protected by strong mucus layer.
Gastric mucus is produced and secreted by special tall (columnar) epithelial cells . It plays a key role to give protection and support the lubrication of food’s movement within the stomach.
And when this mucus layer breaks down or becomes too thin, the stomach lining is more vulnerable to get negative effects from digestive acid and other bad things in the stomach. As a result, the lining may get damaged and you’re at high risk to develop an ulcer in there.
Two main causes to blame are :
- Bacterial infection with Helicobacter pylori. Many cases of stomach ulcer have to do with H. pylori infection. Therefore experts say that it is the top leading cause of the disease.
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) – aspirin and ibuprofen for examples. The risk increases if you take these pain relievers at high doses or for a long time.
Other factors such as poor diet (e.g. alcohol, diet high in spicy and acidic foods), stress, cigarette smoking, and age would also play a role. But they are not the primary causes of the disease.
The open sore of stomach ulcer is painful, causing burning pain sensation in the center and upper area of your abdomen (specifically between the breastbone and belly button). The pain usually gets worse when your stomach acid is at high level, between meals or at night for examples.
Sometimes the pain may radiate elsewhere in the body. For example, it may also affect the back in a few cases.
The pain usually will relieve for a while with food that can buffer the acid or when you’re taking antacid (medication that neutralizes the acid).
The open sore may also cause other symptoms like indigestion, heartburn, abdominal bloating, etc – depending on how severe it is.
Interestingly, sometimes it’s also not painful and asymptomatic (without symptoms). For more comprehensive information about stomach ulcer signs and symptoms, see this section!
Stomach ulcer complications
In general, symptoms are likely more noticeable when stomach ulcer has caused complications. The complications may vary.
Internal bleeding! It’s possible to have bleeding at the site of the open sore. If the bleeding occurs slowly, you may have some of the following signs and symptoms:
- More noticeable heart-beats (heart palpitations).
- Shortness of breath (breathlessness).
- Chronic internal bleeding may also lead to anemia – causing malaise, fatigue, chest pain, lightheadedness, headache, yellowish pale skin, cold hands and feet .
And if it causes severe acute bleeding, you may experience one or some of the following symptoms:
- Blood from bleeding can travel from the affected area to the bowel. As a result, you may pass sticky, black stools (tar-like) during bowel movement.
- Vomiting blood. It may occur with the consistency of coffee grounds.
Obstruction! Ulcer swelling may become severe enough to cause obstruction in the digestive tract, blocking passage of food through your stomach and digestive system.
Perforation, a condition in which the affected stomach lining splitting open!
The good news, the prognosis and outcome of stomach ulcer are quite awesome. The disease is often treatable and curable with comprehensive treatment plan.
But it’s also worth a try to keep alert for ulcer signs and symptoms after treatment. Because there’s a chance for the disease to come back (recurrence) in the next month or years afterwards!
People with a personal history of stomach ulcer should always follow healthy lifestyle modifications to keep the risk of recurrence at bay. For examples:
- Stop smoking! The risk for recurrence may increase with tobacco smoke.
- Avoid alcohol if possible – or drink only at safe level (no more than 1 drink for women, and 2 drinks for men)!
- Always stay on healthy practices; go with healthy-balanced diet, eat regularly, and maintain personal hygiene as well.
Also, maintain your stress! With other risk factors of stomach ulcer (especially H. pylori infection), high-uncontrolled stress would make the disease more likely to form.