Stomach ulcer, also known as peptic /gastric ulcer, is an open sore that forms on the inside lining of the stomach. If left untreated, it can result in some serious complications. So it’s important to take effective treatment promptly! The good news, it is often treatable or even curable. But how long does it take to heal?
There are a number of causes of stomach ulcer. But in most cases, it is caused by bacteria called H-pylori (Helicobacter pylori).
As the name suggests, H-pylori infection is infection at the inner surface of the stomach caused by H-pylori. Sometimes the infection occurs on the inside lining of the upper portion of small intestine, causing peptic ulcer called duodenal ulcer.
Other possible complications of H-pylori infection:
- If the infection doesn’t cause an ulcer, it may cause inflammation of your stomach lining.
- It is also associated with increased risk for certain types of stomach cancer, though this issue is still debatable.
No one knows the exact way of how H-pylori infect people, but there are some possible explanations. For example, it may spread through contaminated water or food. Or it may spread through direct contact with vomit, saliva, or fecal matter.
H-pylori infection is more common during childhood, but it can also occur during adulthood. Worldwide, more than half the people may have it at some point in their life.
The good news, it doesn’t always cause serious problem. Even most people with it don’t realize the infection!
In fact many people with H-pylori infection don’t develop stomach ulcer (though this infection is the leading cause of the disease). This suggests that there are other risk factors of stomach ulcer. For examples:
- Some people may have more powerful immune system. They may be born with more resistance to the harmful effects of the infection caused by H-pylori.
- Regular use of certain medicines (such as aspirin or other pain relievers) may make the H-pylori infection more likely. This is especially true if you are a heavy drinker and smoker. Uncontrolled stress and eating extreme spicy foods may also have an effect!
If you think you have H-pylori infection and do worry about the infection, see a doctor! Prompt treatment is usually required if the infection causes symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Stomach pain, which is also the most common symptom of stomach ulcer. It may last several minutes to a few hours. The pain usually gets worse when the stomach is empty, when there is almost no food that buffers your stomach acid. It can travel from your abdomen to somewhere else especially such as through to the back, up to the neck, or down to the belly button.
- Other stomach discomforts such as nausea, frequent bloating /burping (especially after eating fatty foods), and fatty food intolerance.
- Appetite loss, which is usually followed with weight changes (unintentional weight loss).
- Heartburn is also quite common in people with peptic ulcer.
As the ulcer progresses and becomes advanced, it may cause some of the following symptoms:
- General feeling of being sick.
- Vomiting, sometimes with blood which may appear black or red.
- Noticing blood in the stool. The stools may look tarry or black.
- You may feel faint.
- Difficulty breathing.
How long does stomach ulcer take to heal?
The good news, stomach ulcer is treatable. Even new treatments are more effective to make the ulcer heal more quickly. But how long does it take to heal?
The answer can vary from case to case, which is usually dependent on several factors. The main ones are the cause and severity of the ulcer. What kind of treatment you take can also have an effect!
If H-pylori infection is the cause of your ulcer, the goal of treatment is to drive away the infection and reduce the stomach acid level. The standard treatment usually involves some of the following approaches for 1-2 weeks or more:
- Antibiotics to kill the bacteria (H-pylori). Doctors usually prescribe more than one type of antibiotic. Even sometimes 3 different types of antibiotics may be prescribed.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to reduce the stomach acid by inhibiting the action of certain cells that release stomach acid. High stomach acid level can worsen the sore, preventing the ulcer from healing naturally.
- If necessary, bismuth may be added to help cure the infection. It is a major constituent of Pepto-Bismol.
Take all of your medications as directed! For example, take the full course of your antibiotics or follow the duration directed by your doctor – don’t stop early even though you start to feel better! This is important to wipe out all of the bacteria completely.
After finishing the treatment course, the affected lining of the stomach may take several weeks to heal completely. And about a month afterward, you’ll also be re-tested to see whether or not the infection has been completely cured (this is important to make sure that there are no any H-pylori bacteria left).
If your ulcer is caused by the regular use of pain relievers such as NSAIDs or aspirin (without H-pylori infection), your doctor will:
- Review your painkillers! If possible, you may be asked to stop using them. Or you may be suggested to take alternative pain medication not associated with the increased risk of peptic ulcer such as paracetamol.
- Prescribe certain medications to help the ulcer heal completely. For instance, PPIs may be prescribed for about 2 months.
PPIs can also be prescribed in long term if you need to continue using certain medications that cause your ulcer. But the decision of regularly using painkillers when you have stomach ulcer may cause increased risk of internal bleeding. So this option should be regularly monitored by your doctor!
Sometimes the ulcer fails to heal or even it gets worse. This may occur due to several reasons, these include: