Ultrasound can’t detect stomach ulcers as easily as other methods, like upper endoscopy. But since ultrasound is noninvasive, it might be beneficial in some situations, like detecting large ulcers or tracking the progress of a shrinking ulcer.

Ultrasound is a painless, noninvasive imaging method that doesn’t emit radiation. While you may tend to think of abdominal ultrasounds for use in pregnancy, ultrasounds can detect and monitor many medical conditions.

One such example is for identifying stomach ulcers. Stomach ulcers are open sores that develop in your stomach. They can lead to severe pain, bleeding, and other medical concerns.

Keep reading to learn more about how, why, and even if your healthcare professional would use ultrasound to determine if you have a stomach ulcer.

Who gets stomach ulcers?

When many people talk about stomach ulcers, they mean peptic ulcers. These are sores that occur in either your stomach or duodenum, which is the part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach. In the United States, about 1% to 6% of people have a peptic ulcer.

Stomach ulcers may occur more often in:

  • people 60 years or older
  • those with a history of peptic ulcers
  • individuals who smoke
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Ultrasound isn’t the most commonly used method to diagnose stomach ulcers. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The structure of your body may make it difficult to visualize your stomach on an ultrasound accurately. Other methods, like upper endoscopy, allow doctors a clearer view inside your stomach. But a 2017 study suggested that ultrasound may be especially effective at diagnosing ulcers larger than 5 millimeters.

An ulcer’s location may also make it difficult for a healthcare professional to spot it using ultrasound. Some areas of your stomach are harder to view than others.

But ultrasound can be beneficial in some situations.

The authors of the same study also suggested ultrasound may help monitor treatment by determining if an ulcer shrinks. As ultrasound is less invasive than endoscopy, you could potentially undergo this with fewer risks of complications.

In a larger 2016 study, authors found that having participants drink a contrast-containing liquid before an abdominal ultrasound helped enhance the effectiveness of ultrasound in diagnosing ulcers. Using the contrast-containing liquid helped ultrasound be as reliable as endoscopy in detecting ulcers.

Ultrasound refers to any procedure that uses sound waves to transmit images in the body. There are many ways to use ultrasound on the stomach, including the following:

Transabdominal ultrasound

Transabdominal ultrasound involves placing an ultrasound probe on your abdomen to obtain images of the stomach. The ultrasound technician will place the ultrasound probe on several abdominal areas to view parts of the abdomen when looking for stomach ulcers. These ulcers could appear as thicker stomach lining than the surrounding areas.

Endoscopic ultrasound

Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) is a procedure doctors use to obtain images of your digestive tract. This involves inserting an endoscope down your throat. The scope has an ultrasound probe to generate images of the stomach and nearby organs.

The benefit of EUS is that a doctor may be able to see organs that are hard to image, such as the pancreas and lymph nodes. Doctors can also use this approach to take biopsies or tissue samples. A doctor could use this technology to diagnose if an ulcer is cancerous or noncancerous.

What can stomach ultrasounds detect?

Stomach ultrasounds could help healthcare professionals detect health concerns such as:

The usefulness and effectiveness of stomach ultrasounds depend on many factors, including your medical condition and body size.

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Doctors can order various tests to diagnose stomach ulcers. Most stomach ulcers are due to infection by Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, a bacterium. Doctors check for H. pylori with the following tests:

But other things can also cause stomach ulcers, such as taking large amounts of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin or ibuprofen. If your ulcer relates to this or another cause, H. pylori tests won’t help diagnose the ulcer.

A doctor may then recommend upper endoscopy. This test involves using a special scope with a lighted camera on the end to view the lining of your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Using this method, your doctor can see the ulcer and take biopsies of the stomach tissue to test for changes in the stomach lining.

They may also recommend a barium swallow test. This involves drinking a thick liquid before a technician takes an X-ray of your stomach and other nearby organs.

Treatment for stomach ulcers depends on the cause.

If you’re taking NSAIDs, you will likely need to stop taking them right away.

If you have an infection from H. pylori, you’ll require antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors. You may also benefit from some natural treatments, like probiotics.

In rare cases, a doctor may recommend surgery.

Healthline resources on treating stomach ulcers

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Abdominal ultrasound may not be a doctor’s first choice to help identify a stomach ulcer. But because it is a noninvasive imaging tool, there are situations when it might be beneficial. For example, a doctor may use it to assess whether an ulcer is shrinking.

If your doctor recommends an abdominal ultrasound, talk with them about the potential benefits compared with others ways to diagnose an ulcer.