While some stomach ulcers may be able to heal without treatment, most do not get better on their own. To ensure an ulcer heals properly and doesn’t come back, it’s important to treat the root cause effectively.
Stomach ulcers, also known as peptic ulcers, are sores in the lining of the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach).
Ulcers are caused by the acids in the stomach that wear away at the lining, usually as the result of a bacterial infection or from long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
While some ulcers may be able to heal on their own, many do not. They may worsen without treatment and lead to more serious complications, like internal bleeding and perforation of the stomach wall. Even if a stomach ulcer does get better over time, it’s likely to recur unless the root cause of the stomach ulcer is treated.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what types of treatment can help heal an ulcer, how long it typically takes to heal, and what types of complications can arise without proper treatment.
The best and quickest way to ensure an ulcer is treated properly and heals well is to see your doctor or healthcare professional. They will ask you specific questions, do a physical examination, and run tests to diagnose your stomach ulcer to determine the root cause.
Although there are home remedies you can try and over-the-counter (OTC) medications you can take, many ulcers won’t heal properly unless you address the underlying cause.
OTC antacids may help ease ulcer pain by neutralizing the acids in your stomach so they don’t irritate the sore.
Avoiding spicy and acidic foods and other triggers, like alcohol and coffee, may also help ease discomfort and pain.
Home treatments mostly help ease the pain. They do not treat the ulcer itself or address the cause. If your symptoms persist, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor.
Depending on what your diagnosis is, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments for your stomach ulcer.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat a stomach ulcer caused by the H. pylori bacterium. These types of antibiotic medications typically include:
If you’re prescribed antibiotics, it’s important to take your medication exactly as your doctor prescribes and to complete the entire course, even if you start feeling better. If you stop taking your antibiotics before the course is complete, some of the H. pylori bacteria may survive in your stomach. As a result, your ulcer may not heal properly and is likely to come back again.
In many cases, your doctor will prescribe both antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors to treat a stomach ulcer.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
PPIs can treat ulcers caused by H. pylori infection as well as ulcers caused by NSAID use. This medication, available over the counter and by prescription, works by lowering the acid content in your stomach to allow ulcers to heal.
PPIs that you can buy over the counter include:
Lansoprazole and omeprazole are also available in prescription strength. Other prescription PPIs include:
Your doctor will likely prescribe a PPI along with an antibiotic medication to treat your ulcer.
Like PPIs, H2-receptor blockers have the ability to significantly reduce stomach acid to help ulcers heal. Although PPIs are stronger and reduce stomach acids faster, H2 receptor blockers specifically work at reducing the amount of stomach acid that’s released in the evening. This type of medication is most often used with ulcers in the duodenum.
H2 receptor blockers are available over the counter and by prescription. Some common types of H2 receptor blockers include:
- famotidine (Pepcid, Pepcid AC)
- cimetidine (Tagamet, Tagamet HB)
- nizatidine (Axid)
Doctors typically don’t recommend taking an H2 receptor blocker and a PPI at the same time. This is because H2 receptor blockers can interfere with the effectiveness of PPIs.
In some cases, it’s possible for stomach ulcers to heal on their own. However, it’s more
Stomach ulcers that are not properly diagnosed and treated are also more likely to return. This is particularly true with stomach ulcers caused by a bacterial infection or where treatment, such as antibiotic medication, is stopped before the end of the treatment course.
What are the symptoms of a stomach ulcer?
- abdominal pain between your belly button and breastbone is the most common symptom
- feeling full shortly after beginning a meal
- feeling uncomfortably full after eating
- abdominal bloating
- frequent burping
- acid reflux (GERD)
Some people don’t have any symptoms of an ulcer. They may only notice symptoms once the ulcer has progressed and is causing more severe problems, such as:
- bloody stools
- vomit that contains blood
- sudden or severe abdominal pain that doesn’t go away
- feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- signs of shock
If you have symptoms of an ulcer, consider making an appointment to see your doctor, especially if you notice your symptoms aren’t getting better or are getting worse. Without the right treatment, stomach ulcers can lead to more serious complications.
Take all medications as directed. For example, PPIs do not work effectively unless you eat 30 to 60 minutes after taking them. It’s also important to take a full course of antibiotics and not stop early, even if you feel better and don’t have any symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend testing (via endoscopy) after you complete treatment to ensure the ulcer is gone. If it’s still present, you may need additional treatment.
Pay attention to your symptoms. If they get worse or you develop new issues, it may be a sign that the stomach ulcer has led to complications. Treatment for complications
Complications that can arise from an untreated stomach ulcer include:
Stomach ulcers are not caused by stress or eating spicy foods. So, how can you prevent them?
- Protect yourself from H. pylori infection: While experts don’t know exactly how this bacteria spreads, you can reduce your risk of infection by practicing good hand hygiene and cooking foods properly.
- Discuss your use of NSAIDs with your healthcare professional: Try to avoid long-term use of NSAIDS. If possible, try switching to a lower dose or consider using a different pain medication that doesn’t cause ulcers.
- If you must take NSAIDs, take antacids, PPIs, or other acid blockers: These drugs can help protect the lining of your stomach from acid damage caused by some NSAIDS. Ask your doctor what they recommend for you.
- Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages if you take NSAIDS: Alcohol can increase the risk of stomach damage, especially if you take certain pain medications.
While some ulcers may heal without treatment, most do not get better or go away for good on their own. If you think you have an ulcer, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help determine what could be causing your ulcer and recommend appropriate treatments that will help it heal properly.
Home treatments can help with pain management. However, if your pain gets worse or doesn’t go away, and you experience symptoms like bloody stools, bloody vomit, or dizziness, it may be a sign of a more serious complication. It’s important to get medical attention as soon as possible.