Stomach ulcers most often heal within 4 to 8 weeks. But it can take over 12 weeks depending on factors like size, cause, complications, and treatments.
Feel a gnawing pain in your stomach? Around 10% of people deal with a stomach ulcer at some point in life. Stomach ulcers do not usually heal on their own. Even with treatment, they can take some time to heal or return if not fully treated.
Here’s what you need to know about the timeline for ulcer treatment, what complications you may experience, and when you should see your doctor.
On the long end, some ulcers may take 12 weeks or longer to heal.
Things that affect healing include:
- the underlying cause of the ulcer
- size of ulcer
- length of time you’ve had the ulcer
- treatment and adherence to treatment
- any complications that may arise, like bleeding or fibrosis (scarring)
Since ulcers are caused by acid and aggravated by acid, giving the sore a rest from acid is key for healing.
Research shows that larger ulcers take longer to heal than smaller ulcers. Larger ulcers may develop scarring and bleeding, making healing more difficult.
Ulcers caused by the H. pylori infection may also take longer to heal, especially if the infection is not diagnosed right away. In these cases, the infection must be fully cleared, or the ulcer can return after treatment.
Ulcers that bleed significantly may need additional procedures to cure, increasing the healing time as well. Medications can be injected into the ulcers for treatment. Other options include cauterization (burning the vessel shut) and clipping (clamping the vessel off) to stop the bleeding.
While it is possible for smaller ulcers to heal on their own, this scenario isn’t
Instead, untreated ulcers may cause symptoms that come and go or worsen for several
Even treated ulcers may return. This is especially true in the case of ulcers caused by infection or where treatment with medication is not fully completed.
Omeprazole is a drug classified as a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). It’s used to treat ulcers, acid reflux, and similar conditions because it reduces stomach acid. With less stomach acid, ulcers get an opportunity to heal instead of being continually irritated.
PPIs need to be timed with your meals. You may need to eat within a half hour to an hour after taking the medication for the best results. If you eat beyond this window, the acid may not be suppressed enough to allow your ulcer to heal.
Like PPIs, H2 receptor blockers (Ranitidine, for example) work by reducing stomach acid. These medications are most often used for ulcers in the duodenum, the part of the small intestine that attaches to the stomach.
Your doctor will also prescribe antibiotics if your ulcer is caused by H. pylori. These drugs kill off bacteria and are necessary to treat the infection. Your doctor may request a blood sample after you finish treatment to ensure the infection has cleared.
Otherwise, you’ll need to look at your use of NSAIDs with your doctor. Long-term use of these over-the-counter medications can lead to ulcers. There are both prescription and nonprescription alternatives that can help with pain and reduce your ulcer risk.
You may or may not be able to tell if your ulcer is healing.
Ulcer pain is a good indication. If your pain eases up, your ulcer may be on the mend. It’s important that you do not stop treatment if your symptoms go away, however.
The way you can know for sure if your ulcer has healed is to make an appointment with your doctor to have a gastrointestinal endoscopy. During this procedure, your doctor inserts an endoscope (camera) into your mouth and down through your esophagus to visualize the inside of the stomach.
Ulcers larger than 5 millimeters in size that don’t heal in 8 to 12 weeks with PPIs are called refractory peptic ulcers (RPUs). This diagnosis is made after having an endoscopy. At this point, your doctor may suggest additional treatment measures, like surgery.
Untreated ulcers may lead to complications. Anemia is a common complication that can happen if your ulcer is slowly bleeding. See your doctor if you experience symptoms like pale skin, fatigue, and shortness of breath with exertion.
Consulting your doctor
You may want to consider consulting your healthcare team immediately if you experience:
Make an appointment with your doctor if you don’t think your ulcer is healing. While PPIs are generally the treatment of choice, there are other options to try depending on your ulcer’s size and any complications you’re experiencing. Your doctor can also suggest pain relief methods to keep you comfortable and ones that won’t further aggravate your ulcer.