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Ask a Doc: What Causes Stomach Ulcers?

ulcer, symptoms, stomach pain, decreased appetite, fatigue, pain, change bowel habits, blood in vomit or stool

Daily psychological stress isn't clearly the sole cause of ulcers. But it can make symptoms worse.

The holidays can bring goodwill, cheer, and…ulcers?

Hosting relatives and last-minute shopping can cause stress—a rumored culprit of gastric (stomach) ulcers. And let's not forget the potential for overindulging in winter cocktails and holiday feasts.

Can all of this holiday cheer lead you to opening antacids instead of presents?

To better understand ulcers and what causes them, we spoke with Dr. Quin Liu from the Interventional Gastroenterology program at Cedars-Sinai.

Is it true that certain foods can cause gastric ulcers?

Dr. Liu: No, that is a myth.

Foods themselves do not cause ulcers, but certain foods can cause typical symptoms of ulcers such as abdominal pain, burning sensation in the abdomen or chest area, or any abdominal discomfort.

When should I seek treatment for these symptoms?

Dr. Liu: You should seek treatment if the abdominal pain persists and intensifies to the point where it affects your daily life.

Seek treatment if you notice decreased appetite, fatigue, pain that interrupts your sleep or other normal activities, and change in your bowel habits. Most worrisome would be blood in your vomit or stool.

Is it true that stress leads to ulcers?

Dr. Liu: Actually, this is partially true.

The two big causes of ulcers are physiological stress and infection. Physiological stress can come from a previous illness or trauma, undergoing a major surgery, and extreme physical activity/exercise.

Daily psychological stressors are not clearly sole causes of ulcers, but they can make symptoms of ulcers worse.

When an ulcer occurs because of infection, antibiotics and stomach-acid-blocking medicines will treat it.

Can taking too much aspirin give you an ulcer?

Dr. Liu: Yes, aspirin can cause ulcers, as can other nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medications and steroids.

How long do ulcers typically last?

Dr. Liu: There are many causes of ulcers  and the vast majority of them can be initially evaluated and treated in noninvasive ways, such as blood/stool/breath testing and lab work.

If an ulcer is treatable with appropriate medications, then it may take about 2-3 months to heal.