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10 Signs of an Ulcer You Should Never Ignore

Pay attention to these ulcer symptoms and talk to your doctor if you’re concerned they're pointing to something serious.

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You have pain specifically in your upper abdomen

One of the most common ulcer symptoms is a severe pain in the upper abdomen, according to Neil Sengupta, MD, a gastroenterology specialist at the University of Chicago. Ulcers can develop anywhere in the upper digestive track, but Dr. Sengupta says we often think about those occurring in the stomach or small intestine, where we feel pain. This pain usually occurs between the breastbone and belly button, and can bring on a burning, aching, or dull feeling. The sensation may begin as a light, mild pain but often progresses into something more serious as the ulcers develop.

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You feel nauseous

One of the other telltale ulcer symptoms is feeling nauseous, Dr. Sengupta says. According to the website RM Healthy, ulcers alter the chemistry of digestive fluids in your stomach, causing you to feel a bit queasy, especially in the morning. While digesting food is often a painful feat when you have an ulcer, many patients report that having a little grub in your stomach can help the nausea subside.

Here are eight home remedies for nausea.

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You’ve had unexplained vomiting

From time to time, the nausea brought on by ulcers may become so intense that it could actually cause you to vomit. Frequent vomiting is never a fun experience, but whatever you do, stay away from medications like ibuprofen and aspirin when treating the condition and other ulcer symptoms. According to Dr. Sengupta, these over-the-counter pain medications actually put you at a higher risk of developing ulcers, and can make your current ulcers worse.

Find out 50+ more health symptoms you should never ignore.

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You bleed when you use the bathroom

Blood coming from the gastrointestinal tract can signal a variety of underlying health issues, but Dr. Sengupta says when this bleeding is combined with upper abdominal pain, he’s “highly suspicious” that it’s one of the signs of an ulcer. Many patients notice this blood either when vomiting, or when using the bathroom, as their stools may appear black. If you notice you’re suffering from a bleeding GI tract, along with nausea and pain in the stomach or chest, Dr. Sengupta says doctors will often perform a blood test or an upper endoscopy—where they use a camera to look into the stomach itself—to check if an ulcer is the culprit. Blood in your stool can also be due to hemorrhoids or a symptom of colon cancer, so it’s a good idea to get checked out by your doctor.

Find out six more things your poop can reveal about your health.

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Person holding stomach and chest in bed, with heartburnPhoto: Shutterstock

You have heartburn at most meals

If you find yourself experiencing frequent heartburn, regardless of what you eat, an ulcer may be responsible. Many patients with ulcers describe feeling very intense chest pain, which often causes them to burp or hiccup more than usual after eating. In many cases, a simple over-the-counter antacid can be taken to temporarily alleviate some of the pain and gassiness, but if it persists day after day, it’s likely something more than a regular case of heartburn.

Here’s how to get relief from heartburn.

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You’re more bloated than usual

If you notice your stomach feeling particularly bloated, it may be more serious than a little bit of gas—it could be one of the signs of an ulcer. According to RM Healthy, bloating is often one of the earliest ulcer symptoms, with patients especially complaining of pain in their midsection. Of course, bloating can also be caused simply by eating something your body doesn’t agree with or not drinking enough water, but when combined with these other symptoms, it’s worth checking out.

Find out how much water you should drink to stay hydrated.

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Your appetite went MIA

For many patients with ulcers, the condition can actually result in a loss of appetite. This drop in food intake, combined with occasional vomiting, may lead to unexpected weight loss. Some ulcer patients report eating their normal amount of food, yet still lose weight, so the ulcer itself may cause a drop on the scale, too.

Find out more reasons unexpected weight loss could be a serious problem.

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You’re feeling weirdly hungry

Even though ulcers tend to kill the appetite, the pain they cause between the belly button and chest—usually one to three hours after eating—is sometimes mistaken for hunger. Eating might relieve the pain if it’s a stomach ulcer, but not if the ulcer is in the lower intestine.

Check out eight medical reasons you’re always hungry.

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You keep burping

Indigestion is one of the most common ulcer symptoms, and that can take the form of belching. Talk to your doctor if you’ve been burping more than usual and experiencing any of the other ulcer symptoms listed here.

Here’s what your farts can reveal about your health.

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You’ve had back pain

You might associate ulcers with the stomach and small intestine, but the pain can travel to your back. “If the ulcer has penetrated through the bowel wall, the pain can become more intense, longer in duration, and harder to alleviate,” gastroenterologist Shilpa Ravella, MD, tells Women’s Health.

Now that you know the ulcer symptoms to watch for, find out the best foods to prevent ulcers.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest