Dull or burning pain between your belly button and your breastbone is common with stomach ulcers. Symptoms like burping, vomiting, and feeling uncomfortable after a meal are also possible.

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A stomach ulcer, also called a peptic ulcer, is a sore that forms in the lining of your stomach or in the first part of your small intestine (duodenum).

Ulcers are most often caused by either a bacterial infection or by taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These factors may make the stomach lining more prone to damage from the acids produced during digestion.

Keep reading to learn what ulcer pain feels like, what other symptoms you may experience, and when you should see a doctor.

Pain is the most common symptom of a stomach ulcer. It’s usually a dull or burning pain. People with stomach ulcers also note that their pain does not radiate. Instead, it’s typically located in one spot.

The location of ulcer pain is typically between your belly button and breastbone. The pain may come and go and may feel better for a while if you take an antacid. You may first notice pain between meals or during the night when you’re trying to sleep.

The pain caused by a stomach ulcer may last for just a few minutes or it may go on for hours. It can come and go for days or weeks. The pain may be triggered or made worse by:

  • spicy or acidic foods
  • stress
  • alcohol
  • smoking

Besides localized pain, stomach ulcers can cause a number of other symptoms. These may be mild when the ulcer starts and may get worse over time. These symptoms may include:

When to get medical care

It’s a good idea to see your doctor if you have any symptoms of an ulcer. It’s especially important to get medical attention if you notice your symptoms are getting worse. Without proper treatment, stomach ulcers can progress and lead to complications like internal bleeding and gastrointestinal perforation.

Get medical attention as soon as possible if you have:

  • blood in your stool (it may look black, maroon, or red)
  • blood in your vomit (it may look red or like coffee grounds)
  • sudden or severe stomach pain that doesn’t ease or go away
  • symptoms of shock

Although there are several home remedies for ulcers, it’s a good idea to see your doctor if you have symptoms of an ulcer.

While you wait to see your doctor, there are some self-care measures you can use to help ease the pain or prevent it from getting worse. This includes:

  • Antacids: Antacids, specifically those that contain alginate, help neutralize acid and coat the stomach to relieve pain. These medications can be purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy. You can take them when you have pain or when you might expect to feel pain, like after a meal or while you’re sleeping.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication: The use of OTC pain medication can be tricky. It’s best not to use ibuprofen, aspirin, or other NSAIDs, as these drugs can cause ulcers or make them worse. Acetaminophen may help, but ask your doctor before taking any pain medication.
  • Avoiding spicy or acidic foods: Some types of foods such as spicy foods, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, and acidic foods (citrus fruits, tomatoes), may trigger ulcer pain or make it worse. Try to avoid or limit these foods.

Treatment for a stomach ulcer depends on the root cause. Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and ask you about your health history. Your doctor may also order tests to help diagnose an ulcer. Once a stomach ulcer is diagnosed, your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan.

Treatments may include:

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics are the treatment of choice when a stomach ulcer is caused by an H. pylori bacterial infection. Amoxicillin, clarithromycin, and metronidazole are often prescribed for this cause.
  • Proton pump inhibitors: Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) help with ulcers caused by H. pylori or those caused by NSAIDs. PPIs help heal ulcers by lowering the acid content in your stomach. It may take 4 to 8 weeks for PPIs to fully heal the ulcer.
  • H2 receptor blockers: H2-receptor blockers are another medication that can help reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. These medications are available over the counter and by prescription.

Stomach ulcers can be painful. If you have a stomach ulcer, you may feel a burning or sharp pain in one spot, usually between your belly button and your breastbone. You may first notice the pain between meals or at night while trying to sleep.

If you have stomach pain, it’s important that you see your doctor. If a stomach ulcer is left untreated, it may lead to more serious complications. With a proper treatment plan, you can get relief from ulcer pain and, in most cases, the ulcer will heal.