Peptic ulcer symptoms are often very noticeable and quite painful. Symptoms may come on suddenly, increase over a period of days or weeks, or come and go unexpectedly. Some of the most common symptoms of a peptic ulcer include stomach pain, fatigue, and changes in stool appearance or consistency. Peptic ulcer symptoms are often similar to those of other digestive illnesses and disorders, and should be assessed by a gastroenterologist for diagnosis.
Stomach pain is the most common of all peptic ulcer symptoms, but it may manifest in many different ways. Some people feel a burning, acidic pain in their upper abdomen, while others report nausea and vomiting, bloating, or a dull ache in the lower intestine. In some cases, pain will radiate to the chest or back, causing some people to suspect a flu or other common illness. Heartburn pain is also commonly associated with ulcers, and the pain may temporarily subside with the use of heartburn or antacid medication. In some cases, pain may be worse at night or in the early morning, and may even disturb sleep.
Peptic ulcer symptoms may also include several components caused by ulcer-related anemia. Exhaustion, body aches, and unexplained weight loss can all be signs that an ulcer is causing blood depletion and the occurrence of anemia. Some patients may experience extreme fatigue that results in significant changes to sleep patterns. Peptic ulcer patients may feel constantly hungry, even shortly after eating a meal. The existence of anemia in an ulcer patient suggests that he or she is losing a significant amount of blood through intestinal bleeding or inflammation, and may need to be treated immediately.
Changes to stool appearance and consistency can also be peptic ulcer symptoms. If the ulcer is bleeding, stool may appear black and have a sticky, tar-like consistency. Blood from an ulcer oxygenates as it passes through the bowels, and will usually appear black or dark brown, rather than bright red. While black stool may be indicative of bleeding, it can also be the result of taking antacids, which often contain ingredients that cause dark stool. Doctors can perform a simple stool test to determine if dark stools actually contain any blood, or are simply darkened by medication.
Thorough medical diagnosis is necessary to determine if symptoms are indicative of a peptic ulcer. Many other conditions, including gastritis, Crohn's disease, and irritable bowel syndrome, present with similar symptoms and must be ruled out through examination. If a person experiences peptic ulcer symptoms, doctors may order several tests, including blood work, stool tests, and minimally invasive procedures, such as an upper endoscopy or colonoscopy, to ensure a correct diagnosis.