Curling’s ulcers happen when your body is put under extreme physical stress, resulting in this type of stress-induced ulcer.

These ulcers are most commonly seen as a complication of a severe burn. This can limit blood flow to your stomach and cause the mucous lining of the stomach to wear away. Curling’s ulcers can also appear in other parts of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract near your stomach, such as the duodenum.

The exact number of people who experience Curling’s ulcers isn’t well known. But it’s estimated that a little more than 10% of people who get severely burned have a Curling’s ulcer.

Read on to learn how to identify the symptoms of a Curling’s ulcer, what risk factors may increase your chances of this type of ulcer, and how they’re diagnosed and treated.

Severe abdominal pain is one of the most common symptoms of a Curling’s ulcer — and common to all types of ulcers.

Some of the unique symptoms of a Curling’s ulcer can include:

Like other peptic ulcers, Curling’s ulcers happen when the mucus lining that protects the inside of your stomach is worn away. The affected tissue becomes damaged and can cause pain.

The most common cause of a Curling’s ulcer is a severe burn that affects a large part of your body — usually around 30% or more.

Although incredibly rare, documented only twice in medical literature, Curling’s ulcers have been associated with very severe sunburns.

Along with a severe burn, other factors that can increase your risk of a Curling’s ulcer include:

Curling’s ulcers are more likely to cause perforations in your stomach than other types of stomach ulcers. This means that the ulcer can tear open a hole in your stomach and cause the contents of your stomach to leak into your body.

Other possible complications of a Curling’s ulcer can include:

  • bleeding in your GI tract
  • lacking enough healthy red blood cells (anemia)
  • blockages in your stomach or GI tract
  • infections of the lining around your abdominal organs (peritonitis)
  • new openings between your stomach and colon (gastrocolic fistula)
  • shock to your body from bleeding
  • infections in multiple organs (sepsis)

An untreated Curling’s ulcer can also be deadly if it causes significant blood loss and infections outside your stomach or throughout your body.

Some of the diagnostic tools a doctor may use to detect a Curling’s ulcer include:

  • physical exam to determine the severity of your burn injury and identify any other symptoms, such as abdominal pain
  • gastric lavage to check for bleeding in your stomach
  • upper endoscopy with a camera to look for a Curling’s ulcer in your stomach or small intestine
  • urea breath test to check for the presence of infectious bacteria, such as Heliobacter pylori

Depending on how severe your burn injury and ulcer are, you may need medical care in a hospital or medical clinic to help keep you stable — especially if you’re badly burned across a large portion of your body.

A doctor may be able to quickly identify and treat a Curling’s ulcer if you seek help for your burns. You may be given intravenous (IV) fluids or a blood transfusion to help keep you in stable condition.

Once you’re stable, medications that help reduce stomach acid production are usually the first treatment recommended for a Curling’s ulcer.

These are known as proton-pump inhibitors. Reducing stomach acid can help stop the acid from wearing away at the ulcer and reduce the risk of perforation, too.

Other common treatments for Curling’s ulcers include:

  • antibiotics to treat H. pylori infections
  • antihistamines such as famotidine (Pepcid) to reduce inflammation
  • sucralfate (Carafate) to protect your stomach from acid wearing away at your mucus lining

In some cases, you may need surgery to remove the tissue affected by the ulcer.

Curling’s ulcers are most common as a result of a severe burn injury. The best way to prevent a Curling’s ulcer is to reduce your risk of burns.

If you work in a profession that puts you in close contact with fire or other sources of heat that can cause severe burns, be sure to wear protective equipment or work away from the source of heat.

Some tips for helping prevent complications from a Curling’s ulcer include:

Curling’s ulcer are most common as a complication of a severe burn across 30% or more of your body.

Get medical help right away if you’re severely burned so that you can quickly get this type of ulcer and other possible complications diagnosed and treated right away.