How to Stop Irritating a Stomach Ulcer

A stomach, gastric or peptic ulcer can be very painful.
A stomach, gastric or peptic ulcer can be very painful. | Source

What is a Stomach Ulcer?

A stomach ulcer is a sore on the inside of the stomach. The majority of stomach ulcers are caused by a bacterium named Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori. Most of the remaining cases are caused by long term use of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. Aspirin and ibuprofen are examples of NSAIDs. Excess stomach acid and stress don't cause ulcers, but they may make existing ulcers more painful.

Stomach ulcers can be very painful, especially when acid has been released into the stomach cavity to help food digestion. Ulcers can be treated, but the treatment generally requires six to eight weeks to work. While an ulcer is healing it's important to treat it gently. An irritated ulcer can make life miserable.

Luckily, there are things that can be done to reduce or even eliminate pain from a stomach ulcer. A nutritious diet that includes certain foods, the elimination of foods that trigger pain, a healthy lifestyle and stress reduction can all help to relieve ulcer pain. Medications suggested or prescribed by a doctor can also relieve pain.

Helicobacter pylori, the cause of most stomach ulcers.
Helicobacter pylori, the cause of most stomach ulcers. | Source

Stomach, Gastric and Peptic Ulcers - What's the Difference?

Stomach ulcers are sometimes called gastric ulcers. The term "peptic ulcer" is also used, but this term refers to either a stomach ulcer or a duodenal ulcer. The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine and is a common site of ulcer formation.

Often, pain from a stomach ulcer is worse soon after eating as acid production increases in the stomach. Pain from a dudodenal ulcer is worse two to three hours after eating when the food has left the stomach and entered the duodenum.

Occasionally, a peptic ulcer develops in the lining of the esophagus. This ulcer is also known as an esophageal ulcer. The esophagus is the tube that travels from the throat to the stomach. A muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter normally prevents stomach contents from entering the esophagus. Sometimes the sphincter doesn't close the passageway properly, however, allowing material to move from the stomach into the esophagus. Irritants entering the esophagus from the mouth can also cause esophageal ulcers.

Structure of the stomach
Structure of the stomach | Source

What Causes a Stomach Ulcer?

The stomach lining is protected from damage by a layer of mucus. This mucus prevents the hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes in the stomach cavity from irritating the stomach lining. The acid is required for protein digestion to take place. It also kills bacteria that have entered the stomach.

Helicobacter pylori hides in the mucus layer covering the stomach lining and is protected from an attack by acid and enzymes. In some people the bacterium is present but causes no problems. In others, the presence of the bacterium leads to a weakened mucus layer, inflammation, and an ulcer.

Aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also cause ulcers. They reduce the production of protective mucus in the stomach. They may also irritate the stomach lining and make it bleed.

Anyone with unexplained stomach pain should visit a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment. Self-help techniques can be very useful for dealing with a stomach ulcer but are not a substitute for medical treatment and advice.

A Doctor Describes Stomach Ulcers

Follow a Healthy Diet to Help Relieve Stomach Pain

Following a healthy diet will help to strengthen the immune system, which may aid the healing of a stomach ulcer. Some healthy foods may directly fight an ulcer and relieve the pain that it causes.

Vegetable, legumes or pulses (beans, lentils and peas), fruits and whole grains are generally recommended as the main components of a good diet. Plant foods are rich in beneficial nutrients. Cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale may be especially useful in treating an ulcer. Cranberries and cranberry juice may fight Helicobacter pylori. Cranberry juice often contains lots of sweetener, however.

Foods from plants are high in fibre, which has been shown to reduce the risk of peptic ulcer development. Both soluble and insoluble fibre are important in the diet, but soluble fibre seems to be the most useful type with respect to peptic ulcers. Foods rich in soluble fibre include oats, barley, beans, peas and lentils.

Healthy fats include the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish and the monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil. Lean protein is also an important component of the diet. Extra virgin olive oil and unsweetened yogurt containing live probiotics (good bacteria) are both excellent foods. There is some evidence that they are helpful for an ulcer, but they should probably be eaten in small to moderate quantities. An excessive amount of fat or protein may be irritating for some ulcer patients.

Wild salmon is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Wild salmon is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. | Source

Some foods may trigger stomach pain in people with ulcers. What causes pain in one patient may not hurt another patient, however. It's important that a person doesn't eliminate or restrict the ingestion of a healthy food unless they're sure that it makes their pain worse.

Avoid Personally Irritating Food and Drinks

Some possible causes of ulcer irritation include:

  • foods that are high in fat
  • spicy foods
  • acids from citrus fruits (such as oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit)
  • beverages with a high caffeine level, such as coffee
  • carbonated beverages
  • decaffeinated coffee
  • chocolate
  • alcohol

If someone knows that a food irritates their stomach even when they don't have an ulcer, that food should be at least temporarily eliminated from their diet.

Citrus fruits irritate some ulcers.
Citrus fruits irritate some ulcers. | Source

The old idea that milk can soothe the discomfort of an ulcer has now been discarded. In fact, milk may increase discomfort because it's quite high in protein and stimulates acid production.

Try Eating Small Servings of Some Foods

Try eating red meat and other very high-protein foods in small servings. When protein is eaten, hydrochloric acid is released into the stomach cavity to activate pepsin, the enzyme that digests the protein. Protein is an important nutrient and needs to be part of the diet. Foods that are concentrated sources of protein require a larger amount of acid for digestion than foods containing a smaller amount of protein, however.

People with a stomach ulcer are often advised to eat small or moderately sized meals instead of large ones. When a smaller meal is eaten less stomach acid is produced. In addition, a very large meal can stretch the stomach and make an ulcer more painful. Patients are also advised not to eat close to bedtime in order to reduce acid secretion during the night.

H. pylori and Stomach Ulcers

Quit Smoking

Smoking seems to increase the chance of a stomach ulcer developing and slow or prevent the healing of an ulcer that is already present. It increases the amount of stomach acid that is produced and decreases the amount of sodium bicarbonate made in the small intestine. The bicarbonate neutralizes the acid that enters the intestine from the stomach, so when less bicarbonate is present there is more acid to irritate an ulcer in the intestine.

Be Careful with Medications

Take your prescribed medication at the correct time and don't miss any doses in order to heal your ulcer. If you want to take any over-the-counter pain relievers or antacids, discuss whether this is advisable with your doctor and also ask which medications are best. Acetaminophen (paracetamol) may be appropriate as a pain reliever, since it isn't an NSAID. Since NSAIDs can cause ulcers, taking one when an ulcer already exists could not only cause the ulcer to get worse but even be dangerous.

If you have an ulcer, remember to tell your doctor about all the medications that you take without his or her knowledge, including herbal medicines and supplements. Some medications can irritate ulcers and some can interact with prescribed ulcer medicines.

Looking at flowers in nature or a park can be a good way to relax.
Looking at flowers in nature or a park can be a good way to relax. | Source

Try to Reduce Stress

Stress doesn't cause ulcers, as was once thought, but like stomach acid it may make ulcers worse. If you are living a stressful life, it's important to think about ways in which you could eliminate or reduce the stress. Talking to friends, relatives or a counselor could help you in this process. They may have some creative ideas that haven't occurred to you. It's also important to find relaxation techniques that help you manage any stress that can't be eliminated. The list below gives some methods of relaxation that I find useful.

Walking in pleasant and interesting surroundings may help to relieve stress.
Walking in pleasant and interesting surroundings may help to relieve stress. | Source

Tips for Relieving Stress

One or more of the following activities may help you relax and forget about any stress that you can't avoid. You could:

  • exercise vigorously (as long as it doesn't hurt your ulcer)
  • exercise meditatively, as in yoga or Tai Chi
  • explore an interesting place while walking or cycling
  • take your dog for a walk
  • observe nature
  • do gardening
  • read a book that interests you
  • listen to music that engrosses or relaxes you
  • watch a movie that interests you
  • socialize with friends or go to a fun event with them
  • do creative writing
  • draw or paint
  • go on a photography walk
  • work on a craft
  • play a musical instrument

Some people find that thinking about their spiritual beliefs or their religion relieves their stress.

Interacting with my dog helps to relieve my stress.
Interacting with my dog helps to relieve my stress. | Source

An Ulcer Poll

Have you ever had a stomach ulcer or a duodenal ulcer?

  • Yes, I've had a stomach ulcer.
  • I've had both a stomach ulcer and a duodenal ulcer.
  • I've had only a duodenal ulcer.
  • I've never had a stomach or a duodenal ulcer.
See results without voting

See a Doctor

If you have unexplained stomach pain that is prolonged or repeated, you need to visit a doctor. If you discover that you have an ulcer it's important to get medical treatment and advice. While you're waiting for prescribed medications to work, however, dietary and lifestyle changes could be a big help in relieving your pain and in preventing another ulcer from forming.

More Information About Stomach Ulcers

Stomach Ulcer Treatment from the NHS (National Health Service)

Ulcer Information and Treatment from the University of Maryland

© 2013 Linda Crampton

More by this Author


Comments 26 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

I haven't run into one of these bad boys yet, but thanks for the info if it should ever happen. You do know your medical facts. Well done once again.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks Bill. I appreciate your visit and comment, as I always do!


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

Hi, Alicia - This is another thorough medical examination - this time concerning stomach ulcers and stress reduction. Excellent explanations. Voted up, y'know.


mary615 profile image

mary615 3 years ago from Florida

My Daddy used to say he had ulcers so he had to drink goat's milk. It was my job twice a day to milk the Nanny goat to get his milk.

I am blessed with a "cast iron" stomach so far and have no prolems.

Informative and interesting Hub. I voted UP, etc. and will share.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for another lovely comment, drbj! I appreciate your visits very much.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you so much for the votes and the share, Mary! I'm glad to hear that you have such a strong stomach. I hope it continues that way!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

My husband gets frequent heartburn and stomach upset, especially at night. I'm pretty sure he has an ulcer, but he just won't see a doctor. Men are so stubborn that way.

I'm gradually changing our diet to include fish and vegetables. He's a meat and more meat eating kind of guy.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Good luck with dealing with your husband's pain, Austinstar. He really should see a doctor, but I know what you mean about stubborn people who won't visit a doctor unless they're very sick!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 3 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

He has chronic degenerative discosis in his back too, so he masks a lot of pain with Hydrocodone.

I had to take myself off of hydrocodone. That stuff is nasty. Feels good at the time, but the side effects are crazy bad. You have to take another one to deal with the side effects! It's bad.

I won't even take codeine anymore unless I have to.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I've never tried hydrocodone. It does sound like a nasty medication! Thanks for the warning, Austinstar.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 3 years ago from South Africa

Alicia, you just never disappoint. Such important information in here.

I must add that I once thought that cholecystitis I had was a stomach ulcer, so I've taken medicine for the latter, which was exactly what I was not supposed to do. At present I have to take 400mg ibuprofen per day, and I am not at all happy about this. I wonder if my chemist will give me something else with less devastating contra indications?

Thanks for this most informative hub about stomach ulcers.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, Martie. I appreciate it. I hope that your doctor or chemist can give you another medication that relieves your pain but doesn't have the potential to cause ulcers. Good luck!


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

My poor mother was filled with ulcers before she died. Looks like she did a lot of the wrong things, but then again, she was married to my father...Anyway, this is fantastic information, and very well done.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I'm so sorry about your mother's ulcers and the situation with your father, Deb. This sounds like a sad situation. Thank you very much for the comment.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Thanks for sharing all of this info. I had ulcers about ten years ago and was told many of the things you have metnioned. I had to change many things especially reduce stress to get them under control.

Sending you many Angels this evening. :) ps


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, pstraubie48. I apreciate your visit. I'm glad that you were able to get your ulcers under control!


Vickiw 3 years ago

Hi Alicia, a very interesting Hub, as usual. I have never suffered from this problem, thank goodness, but it must be quite painful. I really appreciate the thoroughness of your Hubs!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, Vicki. I appreciate your comment very much!


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

So interesting and very useful Alicia.

A great share and I vote up.

Enjoy your day.

Eddy.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Eddy. Have a great day!


torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

Hi Alicia,

really great hub here on the best tips

to help with stomach ulcers.

thanks, voted up


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, torrilynn. I appreciate the comment and the vote!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

My husband had ulcers when we were first married. THankfully, through change in lifestyle an diet, he rid himself of them for good. Also, I didn't know decaf coffee caused them - how interesting.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I'm glad that you husband's ulcers disappeared, Dianna. Decaffeinated coffee doesn't actually cause ulcers, but it can make them more painful in some people. Thanks for the visit!


FaithL 15 months ago

I have a peptic ulcer and started drinking protein shakes (30 g) for breakfast for about a week. I had to go to urgent care because of the stomach cramps and pain. I had no idea that large amounts of protein increases acid production in the stomach. The article saved me.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, FaithL. I'm glad that the article helped you and that you've found relief.

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    Linda Crampton (AliciaC)1,248 Followers
    426 Articles

    Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She enjoys writing about human biology and the science of health and disease.



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