Do You Have Heartburn? Or Is It an Ulcer? - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on September 18, 2015

Do You Have Heartburn? Or Is It an Ulcer?

Symptoms of stomach ulcers and heartburn are very similar, which makes it easy to confuse the two conditions.

Early symptoms of stomach ulcers are similar to
and may be confused with symptoms of
heartburn or acid reflux, including
burning stomach pain and/or nausea.

Imagine the feeling of burning pain anywhere between your navel up to your breast bone. This sensation may flare up at night, go away and return for a few days or weeks. It may even be relieved temporarily by eating certain foods.

If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, you may be under the assumption that it’s heartburn. But there’s a possibility it could be something more serious: an ulcer.

Symptoms of stomach ulcers and heartburn are very similar, which makes it easy to confuse the two conditions. Despite this, there are ways you can tell them apart.

The main reason these two conditions are confused for each other is because they can both result in burning stomach pain. With heartburn, symptoms tend to peak or worsen right after eating or within an hour or two of eating.

Contrastingly, stomach ulcer symptoms are worse with an empty stomach and typically feel better after eating. That’s because when your stomach is empty, there’s a better chance of stomach acids irritating the ulcer – food can act as a buffer between stomach acids and the ulcer.

Therefore, people suffering from heartburn may find it hard to go to bed while suffering the burning pain. But, if it’s a stomach ulcer, you are more likely to have symptoms wake you up in the middle of the night or early in the morning when your stomach becomes empty.

Then there’s the location of the infamous burning pain – stomach ulcer symptoms tend to center on the stomach, while heartburn aims higher into the chest, directly behind the sternum.

If it’s just heartburn, you can sometimes influence the symptoms by changing the position your body is in. For instance, if you feel a surge in the symptoms when you bend forward or lie down, it’s likely heartburn. Stomach ulcer pain tends to remain constant regardless of how your body is positioned.

If you try heartburn remedies, and your symptoms don’t respond, it may be an ulcer. A lot of heartburn remedies can significantly reduce symptoms, even providing immediate relief. However, stomach ulcers are not easily remedied, other than eating food or by using Pepto-Bismol or another stomach-coating agent.

Ulcers can cause severe symptoms such as bloating, vomiting blood, dark blood in stools, nausea or vomiting, unexplained weight loss and appetite changes.

What heartburn and stomach ulcers have in common is that they both warrant attention from your healthcare provider. Heartburn can worsen or be a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

And, in the case of stomach ulcers, sometimes they can heal on their own, but they can turn into serious health issues if they aren’t properly treated. Untreated ulcers can lead to internal bleeding or even a hole in the wall of your stomach or small intestine, putting you at risk of an infection. Over time, scar tissue can build up and block the passage of food through your digestive tract, which can cause you to vomit, lose weight and become full easily.

By taking your symptoms seriously and visiting your doctor, you will not only have your condition properly diagnosed and treated, thwarting complications, but you’ll also be left feeling a whole lot better.

Related Locations

eNewsletter Signup

Our eNewsletters from Crozer-Keystone Health System help keep you up-to-date on your health and well being. View recent editions or sign up to receive our free eNewsletters.