7 Warning Signs Your Stomach Pain Is Actually An Ulcer & You Should Take Notice

by Lauren Schumacker

Stomach pain might not be a daily occurrence for most people, but nearly everyone experiences it at one time or another. And while it might typically be something relatively minor, like motion sickness, lactose intolerance, or stress, it could also be something far more serious, like an infection, disease, or sore. Luckily, there are often some warning signs your stomach pain is actually an ulcer, or some other potentially-serious condition, and if you notice them, you should pay attention and likely seek medical attention as well. The problem is, many of these so-called "warning signs" of an ulcer can also be symptoms of a ton of other conditions, which means it can be hard to tell if what you're experiencing is, in fact, an ulcer, or if it's something else.

Although some people mistakenly believe that ulcers can form due to too much stress and anxiety, there are two things that cause most — but not all — ulcers to form. In a piece that she wrote for the New York Times about some of the things that she learned when she was diagnosed with an ulcer, health reporter Catherine Saint Louis noted that both taking a lot of NSAID pain relievers (aka nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori are common causes of ulcers.

If your stomach pain matches certain characteristics or comes along with other specific symptoms, that might mean that your stomach pain isn't a run-of-the-mill upset stomach at all, but rather, an ulcer. Ulcers can often be treated relatively easily (though the pain is still very real and very disconcerting), but if they're left untreated, things can get worse.


The Pain Is Between Your Sternum And Belly Button

In an interview with Reader's Digest, Dr. Neil Sengupta, MD, a specialist in gastroenterology at the University of Chicago, said that because ulcers can form in the upper part of the digestive tract, pain located in between your sternum and belly button can be a sign that you might have an ulcer. Though the pain might not be super severe initially, it can get worse as time goes on and the ulcer, likewise, gets worse.


The Pain Is A Burning Pain

Just because your pain isn't a burning pain, that doesn't necessarily mean that you don't have an ulcer, but burning pain can be a trademark of the condition. Mayo Clinic noted that a burning, painful sensation in the stomach is an extremely common symptom of a peptic ulcer.


You're Nauseous & Avoid Eating

Nausea can mean a lot of different things and there are a whole host of reasons as to why your appetite or desire to eat might change as well, but if you're experiencing these symptoms, you shouldn't rule out the potential for an ulcer without seeing your doctor. Healthline noted that nausea, avoiding eating, and quickly feeling full are all potential symptoms that can point to an ulcer.


You Can't Eat Fatty Foods

If fatty foods are much too much for your stomach to take, that too could be a sign that you might have an ulcer. In an interview with the New York Times for the previously-mentioned article, registered dietitian Lori Welstead, MS, RD, LDN, who works with the digestive disease clinic at University of Chicago Medicine, said that because foods that are high in fat linger in the stomach longer, they're not a great idea to eat while you have an ulcer.


You Start Getting Heartburn Frequently

Women's Health noted that heartburn is another common sign that you might have an ulcer. So if you're getting heartburn far more frequently or it's paired with some acid regurgitation, you might want to see your doctor and explain what's been going on.


The Pain And Nausea Were So Bad That You Vomited

Pain and nausea can make things tough on you and if they're severe, you probably want to see a doctor, even if they don't mean that you have an ulcer. But if the nausea you're experiencing is so severe that it makes you vomit, that might mean that you're dealing with an ulcer, as the aforementioned article from Reader's Digest noted. Pain or nausea that results in vomiting is something that is certainly alarming, no matter the cause.


The Pain Has Spread To Your Back Or Chest

Dr. Shilpa Ravella, MD, a gastroenterologist at Columbia University Medical Center, told Women's Health in the previously-mentioned article that if your ulcer goes through the wall of your bowel, the pain might increase. It can move toward your chest and back and if you experience that or the pain suddenly gets worse, you definitely need to see a doctor as soon as possible.

While having these symptoms doesn't guarantee that you'll receive an ulcer diagnosis, they certainly can mean that your stomach pain is more serious than you might have thought and that you should check in with your doctor to make sure that if you do have one, you receive the treatment you need to feel better as soon as possible.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.