What is a stomach ulcer?

Stomach ulcers are open sores that develop on the stomach lining when acids from digested food damage the stomach wall. Foods, fruits, and vegetables rich in dietary fiber, vitamin A, and flavonoids are the best foods to eat. Green tea and cranberry juice are also helpful.
Stomach ulcers are open sores that develop on the stomach lining when acids from digested food damage the stomach wall. Foods, fruits, and vegetables rich in dietary fiber, vitamin A, and flavonoids are the best foods to eat. Green tea and cranberry juice are also helpful.

Stomach ulcers are open sores that develop on the stomach lining. They can also be called gastric ulcers or peptic ulcers. They can affect people from a young age, but they are more common in people over 60 years old. Men are also more likely to have stomach ulcers. 

Ulcers occur when acids from digested food damage the wall of your stomach. The most common cause of stomach ulcers is infection from a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). Another cause is long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs).  

For a long time, people believed that stomach ulcers were caused by certain lifestyle choices. Many thought that eating spicy foods and experiencing stress were linked to ulcers, but there’s no concrete evidence that confirms those beliefs.

In rare cases you could have a cancerous or noncancerous tumor in your stomach, duodenum, or pancreas known as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome. 

Stomach ulcer symptoms include: 

  • Discomfort between meals
  • Stomach pain that wakes you up at night
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Bloating or burning pain in your stomach
  • Pain that comes and goes for days or weeks at a time

If you have the following symptoms, your ulcer may have torn and become a bleeding ulcer. You need to seek medical attention immediately if you believe you have an ulcer and you’re experiencing: 

Best foods to eat when you have a stomach ulcer

Stomach ulcers may require lifestyle and dietary changes to manage them while they are healing. Acid reducing medications may also be beneficial. Previously, a bland diet was recommended for stomach ulcers but current research does not support that idea. 

Dietary modifications can help, but spicy foods aren’t necessarily an irritant. Doctors now emphasize a diet rich in vegetables and fruits. The best foods to eat when you have a stomach ulcer include:

Dietary fiber 

This includes oats, legumes, flax seeds, nuts, oranges, apples, and carrots. These foods are good for you because they can help prevent ulcers from developing.

Vitamin A rich foods  

Foods like broccoli, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, and collard greens contain vitamin A. These foods increase the mucus production in your gastrointestinal tract, which some believe can help prevent ulcers.

Green tea 

Emerging research indicates that green tea can help fight off H. pylori. 

Flavonoid-rich foods  

This includes garlic, onions, cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, and snap peas. Research suggests that these foods can help protect your gut against chronic gastritis, H. pylori infection, and stomach cancer. These foods help inhibit H. pylori growth. 

Cranberry juice

This tart juice can potentially reduce the risk of H. pylori overgrowth in your stomach and prevent inflammation.

There are certain foods that could irritate your stomach ulcer, and it might be a good idea to limit them. Those foods include:

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How do you know if you have an ulcer?

For many years, it was thought that ulcers were caused by stress, alcohol, or spicy food. However, modern research shows they are usually caused by a specific bacterial infection in the stomach and upper intestine, certain medicines, and smoking.

Signs and symptoms of ulcers

The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is a dull or burning pain in your stomach, between the navel and breastbone. This pain may last from a few minutes to a few hours and may come and disappear for weeks. You may also experience:

Types of ulcers

There are two main types of peptic ulcers, duodenal and gastric. They have almost the same signs and symptoms. The most common way to distinguish between them is noticing what times you feel pain relative to your eating schedule.

Duodenal ulcer

It forms in the upper small intestine. If you feel stomach pain several hours after eating, or a stomach ache that wakes you up in the middle of the night, it could be the result of a duodenal ulcer. The pain usually improves after you have eaten. 

Gastric ulcer

This one forms in the lining of the stomach. The most common symptom is pain that often occurs when food is still in the stomach, just after eating.

Causes of ulcers

Acid

A stomach ulcer occurs when the mucous layer that protects your stomach and small intestine lining from acid breaks down. It happens when acid in the digestive tract eats away at this lining. This leads to the development of a sore. 

H. pylori infection

The Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria was discovered in 1982 by two doctors, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren. Since then, doctors have confirmed that the H. pylori bacteria cause peptic ulcers in ninety percent of all people with the condition. 

However, it is important to note that many people who have H. pylori bacteria do not get ulcers.

Smoking

The nicotine contained in cigarettes is known to weaken the stomach lining, increasing the risk of someone developing a peptic ulcer.

Some medicines

There is a group of medicines that doctors call non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. These are known to increase the risk of someone developing peptic ulcers.

When to see the doctor for ulcers

If you think you have an ulcer, make a point of seeing the doctor. This is especially so if you vomit and notice blood in the vomit or the vomit looks like coffee grounds. Also, if your stool is bloody or has blackish material, it could be a sign of severe ulcers that need immediate medical attention.

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Risks and outlook for a stomach ulcer

If you have a stomach ulcer, you may have to make daily choices to help alleviate and prevent future flair ups. A stomach ulcer that tears and starts bleeding may cause long-term complications. You may experience severe pain and require additional surgery to stop the bleeding.

Acid reducing medications are also an option for treating your condition. If you have H. pylori related ulcers you may be at a greater risk for certain forms of cancers and lymphoma

If your symptoms get worse, you should contact your doctor to find an appropriate management plan.  

Moving forward

The best option for managing your stomach ulcer with food is to have a high fiber diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Consider adding tea to your diet and try to drink alcohol in moderation. 

If you suspect you have a stomach ulcer, you should consult your doctor. They will be able to give you a proper diagnosis and help you determine the right course of treatment. If left untreated and unmanaged, a stomach ulcer can become life-threatening.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/9/2022
References
Arquivos Brasileiros de Cirurgia Digestiva (São Paulo): "Nutritional care in peptic ulcer."

Cedars-Sinai: "Ulcers."

GI Society: "Stomach Ulcer Diet."

National Health Service: "Stomach ulcer – Causes."

National Health Service: "Stomach ulcer – Complications."

National Health Service: "Stomach ulcer – Overview."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Symptoms and Causes of Peptic Ulcers (Stomach Ulcers)."

Very Well Health: "What to Eat When You Have an Ulcer."