How to Spot an Ulcer and How to Treat It

Staff WriterLast Updated Sep 15, 2020 11:43:13 AM ET
Man in a gray sweater and jeans clutching his stomach in pain CC0/mojzagrebinfo/Pixabay

Growing up, you may have heard the myth that stress causes ulcers. It's a common belief, but it doesn't have any truth behind it. Ulcers don’t only form in the stomach. They are caused by several things and can be found in many areas, often causing a lot of pain. Learn about the different symptoms, treatments and warning signs to avoid complications.

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What Are Ulcers?

In simple terms, an ulcer is a painful open sore that heals very slowly and could come back over time. There are many types of ulcers, and many different things can cause them. Ulcers on the outside of your body are often caused by injuries that don’t heal properly due to underlying health issues like a circulation problem. Often, the ulcers that occur inside the body are caused by long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or insufficient levels of stomach acid for breaking down food properly. It’s important to know what skin ulcers look like so you can treat them quickly.

Types of Ulcers

Ulcers come in many types, but some types are more common than others. Examples include peptic, arterial, venous, mouth and genital ulcers.

Peptic ulcers develop in the upper portion of the small intestine, esophagus or the lining of the stomach. Arterial ulcers form outside the body on ankles, feet, toes and heels when damage occurs to the artery, restricting blood flow to tissue and slowing down healing. Toe ulcer treatment includes antibiotics, compression garments and topical wound care. Your doctor can help you find the best treatment for skin ulcers, depending on the type you have and the symptoms.

Mouth ulcers, or canker sores, are found inside the mouth at the base of the gums. The primary causes are brushing your teeth too hard, biting the inside of your cheek, certain food allergies, hormonal changes, vitamin deficiencies and bacterial infections. Symptoms include loss of appetite, swollen skin and tenderness of the gums.

Venous ulcers are a common type of leg ulcer that looks like an open wound below the knee. They are caused by insufficient flow of blood back to the heart, leading to swelling, scabbing, discharge, inflammation and itchy skin. Treatments for leg ulcers include staying active, cleaning the wound and compression treatment. It's important to keep the wound clean and dry.

Genital ulcers are mostly caused by sexually transmitted diseases and come in the form of a rash or bumps in the affected area. They sometimes cause a fever, pain, itching and swollen glands. Genital ulcers can also occur from inflammatory diseases, allergic reactions, bad reactions to skincare products and trauma.

Decubitus ulcers, or bedsores, are found mainly in people with decreased mobility and those who spend a lot of time in beds and wheelchairs. Treatment for decubitus ulcers includes medications to treat infections, surgery, antibacterial drugs, cleaning the wound and keeping the site clean.

Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers

Some of the most common symptoms associated with stomach ulcers include nausea, heartburn, burning stomach pain, an intolerance to fatty foods and bloating. Other less common symptoms include trouble breathing, vomiting, dark blood in stools, changes in appetite, feeling faint and unexplained weight loss. To minimize the risk of stomach ulcers, switch to a healthy diet and decrease painkiller usage. It also helps to get plenty of sleep and limit alcohol and physical activity. If you think you might have an ulcer, keep a close eye on how you feel. If you have severe back pain, feel faint or vomit blood, you need to see a doctor immediately.