If you suspect that you have an ulcer, you can first see your family doctor or a general practitioner. S/he may then refer you to a gastroenterologist for further diagnosis and treatment.
To help you get ready for your appointment, write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to an ulcer. It's also a good idea to keep track of symptoms as they related to the food you're eating or when you stomach is empty. Record key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes and a list of all medications you're taking. Finally, be sure to ask if you should restrict diet before seeing the doctor.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions during a medical history. Be prepared to answer the following questions:
In order to detect an ulcer, you may have to undergo diagnostic tests. These tests are looking for evidence of an infection in your gastrointestinal tract by a bacterium, known as Helicobacter pylori, a major cause of peptic ulcer disease. The sample collected depends on the test your doctor orders. An H Pylori same may be as simple as a stool sample, a breath sample or blood drawn from a vein. A more invasive test will require a procedure called an endoscopy.
Blood test - checks for the presence of H. pylori antibodies. These tests may also be ordered after you finish taking the prescribed antibiotics to prove that the H. pylori bacteria are gone from your body. Although not having H. pylori in the body is the most frequent reason that test results turn negative, some conditions that lower the immune system might affect results as well. Control results are completed 6 months after therapy because the antibodies stay in blood up to 6 months after contact with the bacteria. However, a follow-up test is not performed on every patient.
Breath test - this procedure uses a radioactive carbon atom to detect and monitor the effectiveness of treatment used to eradicate H. pylori. During the test, you drink a small glass of radioactive carbon. Then, you blow into a bag, which is sealed. If you're infected with H. pylori, the breath sample contains the radioactive carbon in the form of carbon dioxide.
Endoscopy - this procedure is often performed after an upper GI X-ray suggests a possible ulcer, but doctors also perform endoscopies as a diagnostic measure firstl. During th procedure, a long, narrow tube with an attached camera is threaded down the throat and esophagus into the stomach and duodenum to view theupper digestive tract and identify an ulcer.
Stool antigen test - his test checks for H. pylori in stool samples and is useful during diagnosis and to monitor the success of treatment.
Upper gastrointestinal (upper GI) X-ray - this test outlines the esophagus, stomach and duodenum via x-ray. During the X-ray, you swallow a white, metallic liquid (containing barium) that coats your digestive tract and makes an ulcer more visible. An upper GI X-ray can only detect some types of ulcers.
Finally, it is important to note that people infected with H pylori are more likely than others to develop certain types of cancer of the stomach, so testing and treatment for H pylori infection is recommended in patients with a family history of gastric cancer.
Seeking a diagnosis for burning pain in the stomach is the first step towards feeling better. Left undiagnosed and untreated, an ulcer can develop further complications in the body. Ulcers can literally eat a hole into the tissues of the digestive tract and require surgery or can cause death. With such severe consequences, how are ulcers treated? To learn more about how to treat a stomach ulcer, continue reading. Our next section on Ulcer Treatment outlines how to relieve ulcer pain here.