Can Stomach Ulcers Cause Headaches and Dizziness?
Peptic ulcer disease is a condition in which ulcers or open sores develop in the stomach or duodenum. Around 25 million Americans have this condition. The CDC estimates that 1 in 10 people in the US will develop an ulcer at some point in their lives.
Peptic ulcers can be stomach ulcers that occur in the stomach's inner lining or duodenal ulcers in the first part of the small intestine. Stomach and duodenal ulcers develop when the lining of the stomach is exposed to excessive amounts of acidic digestive juices.
Ulcers can cause a range of symptoms. Please continue reading to find out whether headaches and dizziness can be symptoms of peptic ulcers.
Why do stomach ulcers occur?
The most common causes of peptic ulcers are:
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterial infection
- Long-term use of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and naproxen
Spicy foods, chronic stress, smoking, and drinking alcohol do not cause peptic ulcers but can worsen the symptoms.
Do stomach ulcers make you feel unwell?
Gastric ulcers can cause various symptoms, the most common being gnawing abdominal pain and a burning sensation in the upper abdomen between the belly button and the chest.
The symptoms of stomach ulcers tend to be worse on an empty stomach, such as between meals, at night, and early in the morning. Ulcer symptoms can last from a few minutes to several hours.
Other symptoms of stomach ulcers may include:
- A dull ache in the stomach
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bloody vomit
- Worsening stomach pain with spicy foods, acidic foods, or fatty foods
- Early satiety (feeling full quickly)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Heartburn and acid reflux
- Dark stools
Is dizziness a symptom of stomach ulcers?
A stomach ulcer does not directly cause dizziness. However, a bleeding ulcer can lead to blood loss and anemia, which can cause dizziness.
Can a stomach ulcer cause headaches?
Stomach ulcers do not directly cause headaches. However, some studies have shown that infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria is a risk factor for migraine headaches. As noted above, H. pylori infection is a common cause of stomach ulcers. Therefore, people who have a stomach ulcer may have headaches.
What are the complications of a gastric ulcer?
A stomach ulcer is a serious condition. It is important to seek medical attention if you have warning signs or frequent symptoms of peptic ulcers, such as pain in the upper middle part of the abdomen. If left untreated, peptic ulcer disease can result in serious complications, such as:
- Peptic ulcer bleeding: Internal bleeding from ulcers in the stomach lining can lead to blood loss and anemia. Severe blood loss from bleeding ulcers can lead to low blood pressure. Serious bleeding in the stomach or duodenum is a medical emergency for which you should see a doctor immediately. You may require hospitalization, a blood transfusion, or emergency surgery.
- Perforation: Peptic ulcers can eat through the stomach wall and cause a perforation (hole). This can lead to a serious infection of the abdominal cavity called peritonitis.
- Obstruction: A peptic ulcer can cause a blockage in the digestive system due to swelling or inflammation. Symptoms of obstruction include feeling full quickly, vomiting, and weight loss.
- Stomach cancer: People with H. pylori infections are at a higher risk of stomach cancer.
If you have stomach and duodenal ulcer complications, your primary care provider may refer you to a specialist in digestive and kidney diseases for treatment.
How can I prevent a stomach ulcer?
You can reduce your risk of developing a peptic ulcer by:
Protecting yourself from H. pylori infection
H. pylori bacteria spread through food and water and can be passed from person to person. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially before preparing food and eating. Eat foods that are thoroughly cooked.
Using pain relievers with caution
Regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and certain medications can increase your risk of ulcers. Talk to your doctor about taking the lowest dose of these medications for the shortest time to treat your health conditions. Take your medications with food. Avoid drinking alcohol while on pain relievers. Ask your doctor if you need to take additional medications such as antacids, acid blockers, or proton pump inhibitors to protect your stomach lining.
What is the treatment for a peptic ulcer?
Treatment depends on the cause. Doctors can diagnose peptic ulcers with tests such as breath tests. If the cause of the open sore is Helicobacter pylori infection, it may be treated with triple or quadruple therapy consisting of a proton pump inhibitor and a combination of antibiotics. Peptic ulcers that are due to NSAID use can be treated by eliminating or reducing the use of these medications and taking medications to help heal the ulcer.
Some medications that can be used to treat peptic ulcer disease include:
- Antacids that neutralize the acid in the stomach and provide quick pain relief. However, these medicines can cause side effects such as diarrhea or constipation. Keep in mind that while antacids may provide relief from symptoms, they do not heal an ulcer.
- Proton pump inhibitors or PPIs that block the production of acid in the stomach and encourage healing of the inner lining of the stomach. PPIs are available by prescription and over-the-counter. Examples include omeprazole (Prilosec), pantoprazole (Protonix), esomeprazole (Nexium), rabeprazole (Aciphex), and lansoprazole (Prevacid). You should know that long-term use of PPIs, especially at high doses, can increase the risk of bone fractures.
- Histamine receptor blockers or H2 blockers that reduce the amount of stomach acid and promote healing. They are available by prescription and over the counter. Examples include cimetidine (Tagamet HB), nizatidine (Axid AR), and famotidine (Pepcid AC).
- Cytoprotective agents that protect the lining of the stomach and small intestines. These are prescription medications. Examples include misoprostol (Cytotec) and sucralfate (Carafate).