A stomach ulcer could be painful enough to interfere with your daily activities. Burning stomach pain is the most common symptom. It may also cause severe symptoms such as appetite loss, vomiting blood, and dark blood in stools. But do ulcers hurt when you press on the stomach?
Pain or tenderness in specific area of your abdomen that hurts to touch or when you press on your stomach is called ‘abdominal (point) tenderness’. And this abdominal tenderness can be caused by many causes.
What do ulcers feel like?
A peptic ulcer is an open sore that develop in the mucosa (inner lining) of the stomach or duodenum (the upper part of intestine). If the area of damage occurs in the inner lining of duodenum, it’s called duodenal ulcer. And it’s possible for both ulcers to be found together at the same time.
An infection caused by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H-pylori) is responsible for most cases of peptic ulcers, though not all people with H-pylori infection develop ulcers. Another common cause is regular, excessive use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. NSAIDs can hurt the inner lining of your stomach and intestine, making ulcers more likely to develop – this is especially true if you also have H-pylori infection or the combination of the following risk factors:
- If you have a compromised, weakened immune system.
- If you’re a smoker.
- If you have chronic, untreated stress.
- Eating spicy foods.
- If you’re a heavy drinker. Alcohol can hurt and erode the inner lining of your stomach and intestine. To keep safe, it’s recommended to moderate your alcohol intake!
In rare cases, the disease may be a consequence of another medical condition such as major trauma, severe respiratory disease, or even cancer.
How ulcers feel like can vary greatly from person to person. Even some people may not realize they have the disease until it becomes advanced. But as mentioned earlier, stomach pain (burning sensation) is the most common symptom. Typically, the pain and other symptoms improve for a while when you take antacids or eat certain foods that buffer your stomach acid. For more information about ulcer symptoms, you might also like to read:
- Can ulcers cause headache?
- Can they also cause back pain?
- What are warning signs and symptoms of bleeding ulcer?
Uncontrolled acid production in the stomach can inhibit or prevent ulcers from healing. Therefore many ulcer medications are aimed to control stomach acid secretion. These options include proton-pump inhibitors and histamine (H-2) blockers.
Also, two or more different types of antibiotics are prescribed by your doctor if your ulcer is linked to H-pylori infection. In severe cases, surgery could be suggested. But surgery is rarely used, because there are now many effective non-surgical medications available.
Ulcers and abdominal tenderness
Though not always, an ulcer might get hurt when you press the stomach (especially in a specific area close to the area of damage). In general the more severe the disease, the more sensitive it is with manual pressure.
Ulcer-related abdominal tenderness usually gets worse when your stomach acid increases (between meals or when your stomach is empty, for example). Also, allow your doctor know if you experience other ulcer symptoms such as heartburn, indigestion, bloating, fatty-food tolerance, loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, blood in stools, or vomiting blood.
Pain that hurts with manual pressure on the stomach can also be caused by something else. Here are some common causes of abdominal tenderness:
- Hernias, a condition in which abdominal tissues protrude through a weak spot or a hole in your abdominal wall fascia. It’s usually characterized by a lump (bulge) that increases in size if you put pressure on your stomach (when coughing or standing for example), and disappears when you’re lying down.
- Appendicitis, inflammation of appendix (filled with pus).
- Diverticulitis, inflammation of diverticula. Diverticula can form in the lining of the digestive system, especially in the lower part of colon (large intestine). These small, bulging pouches are more common after age 40. Sometimes they can get infected and inflamed, causing diverticulitis.
- Abdominal abscess. Abscesses, pockets of inflamed /infected tissue filled with pus can occur anywhere on the body, mostly on the skin. Sometimes they can also form inside the abdominal cavity.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease, infection of reproductive organs in women. It can affect the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It can cause pain in the lower abdomen and pelvis.
Abdominal tenderness may also be caused by Meckel’s diverticulum, a small pouch on the wall of the lower section of small intestine (it usually occurs at birth). Other possible causes include ruptured ovarian cyst, twisted fallopian tubes, and ruptured ectopic pregnancy.
If your doctor thinks that you have ulcers, a number of tests are required. These include:
- First, your doctor needs to check your medical history and perform a physical exam.
- Laboratory tests (such as breath, stool, or blood test) to look for H-pylori infection. Breath test is usually more accurate than stool or blood test.
- If necessary, your doctor may recommend gastroscopy (also called endoscopy). In this procedure, a hallow tube with small fiber-optic camera is passed down into the stomach and small intestine to look for ulcers.
- An X-ray examination may be another test. But today it is rarely used for diagnosing ulcers. It is less accurate than endoscopy.