The American Gastroenterological Association estimates there are more than 4 million Americans who suffer from peptic ulcer disease. That makes the stomach ulcers a common condition. With that in mind, you need to be able to recognize the symptoms and understand how to react. There are both medical and home remedies for stomach ulcers—you decide which treatment works the best for you.
In most cases, stomach ulcers are caused by H. pylori bacterium. People taking anti-inflammatory drugs and non-steroidal drugs are at higher risk. If you have a family history of ulcers, you’re at risk as well. Drinking alcohol and beverages with caffeine increases your chances of developing a stomach ulcer. Last, but not least, diseases associated with the lungs, kidneys, and the liver also contribute to developing stomach ulcers.
Stomach Ulcer Symptoms
There are many symptoms associated with stomach ulcers. Depending on the severity of the ulcer, the symptoms can be mild or severe. Out of the many symptoms, however, one stands out above all others.
The most common symptom—the one that’s an immediate red flag that something is wrong—is a burning sensation or pain in the middle of your abdomen. The pain can be localized between the chest and the belly button. When your stomach is empty, the pain is more severe and intense.
There are many conditions that can cause abdominal pain. But the pain from a stomach ulcer is different. The pain starts in the middle of the tummy and then travels up to the neck. The pain can also travel down to the belly button, or go through to your back.
The pain usually lasts for a few minutes, but can also last for a few hours. You’ll feel pain a few hours after eating. You might even feel pain in the middle of the night. The pain is more intense when your stomach is empty.
If you take antacids (or any other indigestion medication), the pain will be gone for a moment. But the relief is only temporary, and the pain will keep coming back until you solve the root of the issue—the ulcer.
Other symptoms of a stomach ulcer
While pain in the stomach is the most common symptom, you need to pay attention to the other symptoms. The pain will often be accompanied by one or more of the “other symptoms,” such as:
- Weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling easily full
- Loss of appetite (mostly because of pain)
- Feeling sick and being sick
- Burping or acid reflux
- Pain that improves when you consume food
- A dark and tarry stool
When to seek medical attention
If you notice any of the symptoms, consult your doctor. Even when the discomfort is mild, ulcers get worse as time passes. If the ulcer is not treated, the pain will become progressively more severe.
In some cases, the ulcer might become life-threatening. The symptoms of a severe ulcer condition include:
- Vomiting blood
- Passing dark, sticky stools
The bleeding can be bright red or even have a dark brown appearance similar to coffee grounds.
What does a stomach ulcer feel like?
As mentioned previously, it’s crucial to differentiate the pain from a stomach ulcer from other types of abdominal pain. People often ask what the pain feels like; anyone who has ever experienced a stomach ulcer will tell you that the pain is different, and it can vary in both severity and duration. That’s why it’s hard to give a clear answer regarding what the pain from a stomach ulcer feels like.
The pain you feel might last for a few minutes, but it could also for several hours. It’s important that you understand where the pain appears. The initial pain will appear between your breastbone and your belly button. From there, the pain might spread up towards the neck, down towards the belly button, or even spread to your back. The best way to describe what a stomach ulcer feels like is as a “burning, stabbing, and aching pain.”
The pain is often accompanied by other symptoms, so keep an eye out for an increase of gas and burping, a feeling of fullness, an inability to drink a lot of liquids, feeling hungry a couple of hours after a meal, and if you feel any mild nausea.
Stomach ulcer treatment
The treatment for a stomach ulcer vastly depends on the cause of the problem, and depending on the cause, doctors will prescribe medicine. Most treatments will heal the ulcers in a month or two. In most cases, the cause of a stomach ulcer is an H. pylori bacterial infection, which calls for antibiotics. Here is a quick breakdown of what you might expect at the doctor’s office.
As mentioned, when the cause of the ulcer is an H. pylori infection, two or three antibiotics are prescribed. Each of the antibiotics needs to be taken twice a day for a week. Some of the common antibiotics for this condition are clarithromycin, amoxicillin, and metronidazole. Side effects of using antibiotics include:
- Feeling sick
- Metallic taste in the mouth
Your physician will check you four weeks after finishing the antibiotics treatment to see if you’ve completely cleaned the bacteria from your stomach. If there are bacteria remaining, the doctor will choose a further course of eradication therapy, using different antibiotics.
Proton pump inhibitors
Also called PPIs, they work by reducing the amount of acid your stomach produces. This prevents further damage to the ulcer and allows your condition to heal naturally. PPIs are prescribed for 4 to 8 weeks. Some of the common PPIs include omeprazole, lansoprazole, and pantoprazole. Side effects can be mild, but they include:
Once you complete the treatment, the side effects will disappear.
These work in a similar way to PPIs. Their main goal is to reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces. In terms of common H2-receptor antagonists, ranitidine is the most commonly used. There are side effects in some cases, including:
- Feeling of tiredness
Antacids and alginates
All of the previous treatments need several hours before they start working. Because of that, your physician might prescribe additional antacid medication that will neutralize the stomach acid. Antacids provide instant relief—the problem is they only work short-term.
Stomach Ulcer Diet
When you suffer from a stomach ulcer, it’s crucial that you pay close attention to what you eat and drink. There are certain foods and beverages that can further irritate your stomach, causing even more pain than before. You definitely don’t want to worsen the symptoms!
With that in mind, what are the foods that help, and what are the foods that make matters worse?
Foods to avoid
As a general rule of thumb, avoid spicy, high-fat, and acidic foods. These are foods that cause inflammation and irritate your stomach. When you have a stomach ulcer, you probably also have acid reflux. If that’s the case, food can cause the lower part of the oesophagus to relax, which makes it easier for acid to back up and cause heartburn, pain, and indigestion. Learn which foods to avoid to make sure your symptoms don’t worsen.
- Whole milk
- Chocolate milk
- Hot chocolate
- Coffee (regular and decaffeinated)
- Any beverage that contains caffeine
- Orange juice
- Grapefruit juice
- Peppermint and spearmint tea
- Black or green tea, even without caffeine
- Dairy foods made from cream or whole milk
- Spicy or strongly flavoured cheeses
- Highly seasoned meats
- High-fat meats (salami, bacon, ham, sausage)
- Hot peppers
- Tomato products
- Generally acidic foods like citrus
Spices and seasonings:
- Black and red pepper
- Mustard seed
- Chilli powder
Try not to consume any of the above until you get the ulcer treated.
Foods to eat
As we’ve learned, in some cases, stomach ulcers are caused by the H. pylori bacteria. That means you need to consume foods that can be important assets in the fight against the infection. Antibiotics are your medical assets to fight off the disease, but you also need foods that will calm your stomach and not worsen the symptoms.
With that in mind, inflammation-type foods are always to be avoided. What you need to consume is a healthy meal that’s low in unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt. Consume healthy fats and foods that are good against ulcer-causing bacteria: foods groups like fruits, vegetables, fat-free, low-fat dairy foods, and whole grains are recommended, as well as lean meat, poultry, beans, nuts, eggs, and fish.
Here is a quick list:
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
- Bell peppers
- Leafy greens (kale and spinach)
- Probiotics (yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha)
- Chicken and turkey meat
- Lean meat
- Fish that’s high in healthy fats (e.g., salmon)
Why do these foods help? For starters, all of the foods on the list are high in antioxidants that are beneficial in the fight against bacterial infection. They also protect and activate your immune system. Your immune system needs help to fight off the infection, and all of the foods on the list will help it do that. They are also preventive against stomach cancer.
Probiotics might be your biggest asset in fighting off stomach ulcers; indeed, studies have shown that they are beneficial for ulcer treatments. When we talk about probiotics, we mean fermented probiotics in general, including miso, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Home Remedies for Stomach Ulcers
As we’ve seen, there are medical treatments for stomach ulcers, but there are also home remedies you can try. Most of the home remedies are linked to the foods that are recommended to fight stomach ulcers.
Let’s take a look.
Because cabbage is a lactic acid food, it helps with the production of amino acids that stimulate blood flow to the stomach lining. The result is a stronger and healthier stomach lining that can heal your ulcer. In addition, cabbage provides a good amount of vitamin C, a vitamin that’s highly beneficial for patients with H. pylori infections.
For your treatment, cut ½ of a raw cabbage head and two carrots into small pieces. Put the veggies in a blender to extract the juice. Before every meal, drink ½ cup of the juice, and another ½ cup at bedtime. Repeat every day for a few weeks, and you’ll see results.
You can use both ripe and unripe bananas for this treatment. Bananas contain antibacterial compounds that inhibit the growth of the H. pylori bacteria. They also wipe out the acidity from gastric juices and reduce inflammation.
You need to consume at least three bananas per day. And if you don’t like bananas, you can always prepare a smoothie or a milkshake with bananas.
We mentioned previously that coconut oil is one of the healthy fats you need to consume during a stomach ulcer treatment. But it also works as a home remedy for ulcers because it kills the bacteria that causes them.
For this treatment, take one tablespoon of coconut oil in the morning and one before bedtime for one week. You can also drink a few cups of coconut milk or coconut water per day.
Studies show that liquorice can help the stomach and the intestines produce protective mucus (it’s the mucus that protects the stomach lining by forming a coating). The result is less severe pain from ulcers and an accelerated healing process.
For the remedy, mix ½ teaspoon of liquorice root powder and a cup of water. Cover the cup with a cloth, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, add a cup of cooked white rice and eat it. Repeat each day for one week.
Flavonoids, also known as bioflavonoids, are an effective stomach ulcer treatment. And while the name sounds medical, you can consume them naturally. You can find flavonoids in fruits and veggies like legumes, red grapes broccoli, kale, berries, and apples.
All of these foods will help your body fight off the H. pylori infection. Consume the fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, and you will slowly notice progress.
Being living bacteria, probiotics help balance the flora in your gut. They provide healthy, important microorganisms for your digestive tract. You can find probiotics in foods like buttermilk, yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, and miso.
We all think of honey as an alternative sweetener. But this ingredient is much more than that. Depending on the plant from which it’s derived, honey can contain up to 200 elements, including many important antioxidants and polyphenols. As such, honey is one of the most potent and powerful antibacterial foods you can find. Because of that, honey can easily inhibit H. pylori growth and protect your stomach lining.
The only downside is you have to pay attention to your blood sugar levels. But if you have normal blood sugar levels, there’s nothing to be afraid of. For the stomach ulcer treatment, consume two tablespoons of raw honey per day in the morning on an empty stomach to cleanse the bowel.
Garlic is called a superfood for a reason. There are just so many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in a clove of garlic. Thanks to its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, garlic can keep the levels of H. pylori in check. Just take two or three crushed cloves during the day and follow it up with a glass of water. Consuming garlic on a daily basis will reduce inflammation in the gut.
Bael, the leaves of the wood apple, are very effective in treating stomach ulcers, as they protect against damage from excess acid secretions.
For this treatment, soak two to three wood apple leaves in a cup of water overnight. In the morning, strain the mixture and consume it on an empty stomach. Repeat daily for a few weeks.
Essential Oils for Stomach Ulcers
When you look for natural home remedies for any condition or disease, essential oils are always an option. In terms of stomach ulcers, essential oils promote a healthy balance of bacteria, which is the key to treating the condition. And there are studies that show that essential oils are an effective treatment for the condition.
Why choose essential oils?
Here are a few quick reasons why you should consider using essential oils for treating stomach ulcers:
- They promote a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut.
- Essential oils are a natural treatment that can help soothe the pain and discomfort of a stomach ulcer.
- They cause no side effects.
- Essential oils do not destroy gut flora. Unlike antibiotics, essential oils don’t harm the stomach lining or the gut flora.
- They promote healthy and effective digestion.
- Essential oils also reduce bloating, gastritis, and flatulence.
- Essential oils have anti-inflammatory properties that will cure the root of the problem.
- They can calm the digestive stomach acid, stopping infection with Helicobacter bacterium.
With that in mind, which essential oils should you use?
Carrot seed oil
Carrot seed oil is one of the most underrated and undervalued essential oils. Distilled from the dried seeds of the wild carrot plant, this essential oil has many benefits and can be used for treating different conditions. In terms of stomach ulcers, carrot seed oil will reduce the effects of the H. pylori bacteria in the stomach.
- Strong antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal properties
- Helps you release trapped gases from the intestines
- Relieves flatulence and bloating
- Stimulates secretion of digestive enzymes
- If you suffer from epilepsy, avoid this oil as it can trigger overstimulation
- Topical use can increase skin sensitivity, so apply it at night or stay inside after application
- Not safe to use during pregnancy
- Always dilute carrot seed oil with olive or coconut oil
- Overdose may cause vomiting; consult a natural holistic expert to get the correct dosage
Cinnamon bark essential oil
This is not ground cinnamon oil. The aroma is more powerful, and the oil is sweeter than its ground counterpart. Cinnamon bark is distilled from the outer bark of the cinnamon tree. With respect to stomach ulcers, the oil has a calming and relaxing effect on our stomach.
- Cinnamon contains “eugenol,” a crucial compound that heals stomach ulcers
- Its antimicrobial effect can kill H. pylori bacteria
- Restores balance to the intestinal flora
- In addition to bacteria, it can also fight off yeast and fungi
- Prevents fermentation in the intestines
- Cinnamon bark is packed with antioxidants
- Be careful when applying topically, as it can cause skin sensitivity
- May cause nausea, diarrhoea, and stomach pain in some cases; if it does, stop using it immediately
- Don’t use if you take heart disease medications
- May cause burning in the mouth and tongue
Lemongrass essential oil
Another essential oil that’s powerful in fighting off bacteria and fungi. Because of its antibacterial properties, lemongrass is effective against drug-resistant bacteria. In terms of stomach ulcers, this oil slows the growth of the H. pylori bacteria.
- A powerful antioxidant that will fight off free radicals
- Its antibacterial properties are second to none
- Thanks to analgesic properties, lemongrass also reduces pain and inflammation
- Avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Long-term use can cause an upset stomach
- Always dilute with a carrier oil and never apply directly on your skin
Basil essential oil
Basil is one of the best essential oils you can find to improve your digestion (its effects on improving digestion are well known). In addition to improving your digestion, basil essential oil also has positive effects on the digestive tract.
- Useful for soothing ulcers as well as nausea, digestive spasms, and bloating
- Strong antibacterial properties that can destroy certain bacteria
- Can also be used to stimulate kidney function
- Basil relieves fatigue and improves your mood
- Avoid long-term use
- The maximum dose should be 20% basil and 80% carrier oil
Clove essential oil
Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of a tree. Clove essential oil is derived from the leaves of the plant, and it has powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antiseptic properties. In addition to ulcers, the essential oil can be used to treat breathing disorders, inflammation, and toothache.
- Improves your body’s anti-ulcer activity
- Can effectively reduce inflammation in the gut
- When applied topically, provides natural pain relief
- The oil is extremely potent; always mix with a carrier oil
- Don’t use if pregnant or breastfeeding
- Long-term use can cause gastrointestinal irritation
- Don’t use this oil if you’re taking anticoagulant medications
Angelica essential oil
Angelica is a little known essential oil. Its health benefits are not well known, either, but it has been used for years to treat digestive problems linked to the digestive tract.
- Great for ulcers and gastritis, but it also has positive effects on abdominal spasms
- Because of its sedative and anti-anxiety properties, can be used to reduce ulcers caused by stress
- Stimulates appetite and promotes healthy digestion
- Improves your sleep and helps you relax
- You cannot expose your skin to the sun 24 hours after use of the oil
- Not recommended for people suffering from haemophilia
- Avoid the oil if you’re taking anticoagulants or you’re allergic to aspirin
- Don’t take if you have kidney problems
Manuka essential oil
An essential oil similar to tea tree oil, manuka is slightly more potent. Derived from the manuka plant, studies show that manuka has potent antimicrobial properties and is great against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Natural anti-inflammatory remedy
- Provides pain relief
- Great antispasmodic abilities
- Don’t ingest it without consulting with a doctor first
- Don’t use if pregnant or breastfeeding
- Best when used topically and mixed with a carrier oil
How to use essential oils
As we’ve seen, most essential oils are best used when applied topically and mixed with a carrier oil. And while there are other ways to use essential oils, when it comes to stomach ulcers, it’s best to avoid oral ingestion.
Your best bet is to consult with a holistic expert for the safe topical application dosage. In general, a ratio of 20% essential oil to 80% carrier oil works best. When you apply essential oils on your skin, cover the area with a warm cloth so that the oils can penetrate deeply into the skin. This will provide pain relief.
Another way to use essential oils is to add 5-10 drops in a diffuser and inhale the vapour for 30 minutes.