If you’ve been dealing with severe heartburn, indigestion, nausea and abdominal pain, a peptic ulcer could be to blame. Peptic ulcers are sores that erupt on the lining of the upper digestive tract. Ulcers often develop when H. pylori, a common bacteria, weakens the protective lining of the esophagus, stomach and small intestine, allowing acid to irritate the underlying tissue. The pain that accompanies ulcers is much more severe than an occasional bellyache, but the good news is it’s usually easy to treat. Don’t wait to have a suspected ulcer checked out — if you’re suffering from the following symptoms, it’s time to talk to your doctor:

  • Burning abdominal pain that:
    • Is intermittent (comes and goes)
    • Flares up after eating
    • Wakes you up in the middle of the night
    • Is lessened by eating
    • Is eased by taking antacids
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling bloated or gassy
  • Frequent burping or hiccuping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Your doctor might order an endoscopy or barium swallow test to get a better look at your upper GI tract and determine whether or not you have a peptic ulcer. Once a diagnosis has been made, ulcers are usually treated with medication or surgery in more severe cases.

Tips to prevent ulcer pain and speed up healing include:

  • Avoiding “trigger” foods. Spicy, fatty and acidic foods can make ulcers worse.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Relax. Stress can aggravate ulcer symptoms.