Can Stress Cause Ulcers?

By Steven Finkelstein

Updated August 27, 2019

Reviewer Kristen Hardin

Many potentially dangerous and harmful side effects can occur as a result of stress. Some of them are of a physical nature, while others can be emotional or psychological. One of the particular health issues this post will examine is the role of stress in ulcers.

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What Are Ulcers?

An ulcer is a sore that shows up somewhere on your body that is slow in healing or that heals but then returns. You might have ulcers on the outside of your body, such as on your leg, or you may also have them inside your body in places that you cannot see. The ones inside your body are sometimes referred to as peptic ulcers. They form in areas like the stomach lining or the upper intestine.

What Do They Feel Like?

Ulcers, whether on the inside or outside of the body, can be quite painful. They can hurt or burn whenever you move, or they might throb or emit a pulsing sensation even when you are sitting still. There are over-the-counter pain medications that you can take that might help with the problem, or if you have a severe one, then you might need to get stronger prescription medication from a doctor.

What Do They Look Like?

Ulcers that are outside the body are the only ones that are going to be visible to you, at least with the naked eye. Their appearance varies. They might resemble red splotches that ooze. They might also look like darkened or swollen patches of skin that are similar to severe bruising. If you have what you think might be an ulcer, then a doctor can confirm or deny that suspicion. If you tend to get them, then on subsequent occasions you'll probably be able to identify one by yourself that has appeared on your body.

What Are Some of The Causes of Ulcers?

Some people seem to be more prone toward getting ulcers than others. They can be caused by injuries, infections, and also certain diseases. Often, you will sustain an injury, and then an ulcer will form there because of a blood flow problem. The site will not be able to heal on its own, and you'll need to seek treatment.

If the ulcer is on the outside of your body, like on one of your legs, for instance, then it might be there because of a history of blood clots. If your legs frequently swell, then you are more prone to getting them. Osteoarthritis can cause them, and those individuals with varicose veins also have a higher tendency to suffer from them.

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Bed Sores

Bed sores are another form of ulcer. They are also referred to sometimes as pressure ulcers. At first, they look like off-color skin, but if you don't take steps to treat them, then they can turn into large, open wounds. They form because prolonged pressure on your skin has caused blood flow problems. Patients who are in the hospital recovering from surgery and don't move from one position for an extended period are in danger of getting them. That is why coma patients get moved to different positions throughout the day. It is to keep them from getting bedsores.

But Can Stress Cause Them?

As it relates to stress ulcers and whether they exist or not, you will be relieved to know that stress on its own does not cause them. Nor does spicy food, regardless of what some people will try to tell you. That's true for both ulcers that form on the outside of your body and common kinds that form inside you, like peptic ulcers.

However, that being said, both stress and spicy foods can exacerbate your condition if you have ulcers already. If you eat a blander diet, then your ulcers should heal faster. If you can reduce stress in your life, then you'll also probably heal at a more rapid pace. While such a thing as a stress-induced ulcer is a myth, you should still try to reduce the stress that's in your life if you have ulcers already or you know that you are prone to getting them.

How Can You Reduce the Stress in Your Life?

While stress and ulcers are not directly related, at least not to the extent that one causes the other, it's still better if you can figure out what's causing you anxiety if you're prone to getting them.

Decreasing stress in your life means first identifying what is causing it. It's not going to be too difficult if you feel stressed only at particular times of the day or when you are faced with specific situations. Whether at work or in your personal life, you might sometimes feel like stress is building up in you. When you have those moments, look around and see what it is you're doing. What situation are you in, and who is around you?

Stress Caused by Your Job or Family Members

If you have noticed that your job is the cause of your stress, you could consider finding a new job. Sometimes that is hard or not possible. The easiest place to start might be to examine your job and your company to see where you can decrease some stress. Maybe you are really good at several parts of your job but there are parts of it that cause you severe stress. You could consider talking to your boss and looking for possible solutions. Maybe you are taking home more stress from work than you have to. A therapist can be really helpful in showing you how to set and maintain work/home boundaries.

If the people who are stressing you out are your family members, then it may not be possible for you to escape from them altogether, nor would you want to do so. If you're convinced that they are the source of your stress, though, then you probably need to have a lengthy, serious conversation with them about the way that they are making you feel.

Try to frame it in a fashion that does not sound accusatory. Instead, emphasize that there is something that they are doing that is causing you distress and if they are going to continue to be around you, then they need to correct that behavior.

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Some Other Ulcer Risk Factors

Though we have established that the stress ulcer is technically a myth, we should still mention some of the other risk factors that you should avoid. Smoking is a significant one. If you smoke, then along with the risk of many other severe health conditions, you have a better chance of contracting ulcers. Peptic ulcers, in particular, are relatively common in heavy smokers.

The consumption of too much alcohol can also lead to ulcers. The mucous lining of the stomach is gradually eaten away and irritated the more that you drink. Alcohol also increases the amount of acid in your stomach, so if you do contract an ulcer, then it is likely to be more painful for you.

What Happens If Internal Ulcers Are Left Untreated?

If you do have peptic ulcers and you don't take steps to treat them, serious complications can occur. Internal bleeding can take place from the site of the ulcer that eventually causes anemia. An infection can also take place if the lining of the stomach or small intestine is completely eaten through by an ulcer. A serious infection of the abdominal cavity that is sometimes called peritonitis can occur. If left untreated for an extended period, then it might even be life-threatening.

Do You Feel Like Stress Is Exacerbating A Health Condition?

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If you feel like stress is causing serious health conditions to occur for you, then you should seek out the aid of a doctor and counselor. A doctor can help you with the medical part of the ulcer and a therapist can help you with some of the stress prevention discussed in the above post. You can get a recommendation from your doctor for a local therapist or you can even try online therapy www.betterhelp.com/online-therapy/. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who can help you find better ways to cope with stress. You are not limited to video or phone sessions, you can also exchange messages on the secure platform, similar to email, or you can set-up live chat sessions. You can get started anywhere you have access to the internet so don't wait!


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