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How Does Stress Cause Ulcers? Find Out the Answer Here

Medically reviewed by Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD · General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Jun 03, 2021

How Does Stress Cause Ulcers? Find Out the Answer Here

Did you know that ulcers, aside from being caused by illness, can also be caused by stress? But how does stress cause ulcers, and what can people do to avoid stress ulcers?

What are stress ulcers?

Stress ulcers are stress-induced damage to the stomach’s lining (gastritis) where the stomach’s mucosal barrier is disrupted secondary to a severe acute illness.

They usually appear after a person suffers from severe acute conditions such as multiple traumatic injuries, major burn injuries, brain injuries and sepsis (blood infection).

Stress ulcers can appear in the form of erosive gastritis, or a type of gastritis wherein the stomach lining breaks down because of inflammation.

It can also present as gastrointestinal bleeding, which ranges from mild to serious bleeding.

How does stress cause ulcers?

In times of acute illnesses, stress ulcers happen due to two things: increased secretion of gastric acid or decreased blood circulation to your digestive organs.

You’ve probably felt “butterflies’ in your stomach whenever you’re nervous, or perhaps you experience heartburn whenever you’re under a lot of stress. These are just a few examples of how different types of stress can elicit a physical response in your body.

This is known as the brain-gut connection, and scientists are just starting to discover the connection between our stomachs and our brains. The brain-gut connection means that problems that affect our mental health, can possibly have an effect on our gut health. And one of these is stress ulcers.

In the case of stress ulcers, it is believed that stress can cause the body to secret a type of hormone called gastrin. This hormone is responsible for regulating the production of gastric acid in the stomach.

When theres is too much gastrin, the body starts producing more gastric acid than needed. And this can potentially break down the lining of the stomach.  If the stomach’s lining breaks down, then it can get inflamed because of stomach acid, and can cause stress ulcers.

Stress can also appear alongside serious illness. Critical illness actually triggers multiple systemic abnormalities and alterations in how your blood circulates through your body. As a result of these, blood flow to your stomach also decreases. This prevents your stomach from functioning properly, i.e. maintaining the mucus protective lining of the stomach. When exposed to gastric acid, stress ulcer then develops.

An infection of Helicobacter pylori can also possibly trigger this type of ulcer. There is also some evidence showing that stress can aggravate ulcers caused by H. pylori.

How can you treat stress ulcers?

There are different ways to treat stress ulcers. But the first thing would be to talk to your doctor about it.

Ulcers can range from mild to more serious or even life-threatening problems. This is why you need to visit your doctor in order to get a diagnosis.

The usual form of treatment for stress ulcers would be prescription medication. Medication for stress ulcers helps reduce the acid production in your stomach so there is less chance that inflammation would occur. These medications are usually administered intravenously or directly through your veins.

In case there is gastrointestinal bleeding, your doctor will need to assess the severity of your condition. It could be possible that you might need a blood transfusion in case you lost too much blood.

It is possible that surgery might be required to remove the part with the ulcer and prevent further bleeding. However, this is usually done as a last resort when it comes to treating stress ulcers.

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How can you prevent stress ulcers?

how does stress cause ulcers

Here are some things that you should remember when it comes to treatment of stress ulcers:

Reduce your stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety can have an effect on your body that goes beyond mental health. As in the case of stress ulcers, experiencing too much stress and anxiety can have an effect on a person’s bodily functions, which can cause illness.

In order to prevent this from happening, it is important to take steps to reduce your stress and anxiety.

You can do this through the following methods:

  • Stress might be a part of life, but you should not let it overwhelm you.
  • Take breaks every so often to avoid feeling too stressed out.
  • Sometimes, you might need to take a day or two off in order to prevent yourself from getting burned out.
  • Exercise can help calm your mind and also keeps your body in good shape.
  • Focus on the things that you have control over. Fretting over things that you can’t control will only cause undue stress.
  • Meditation and mindfulness can help you focus on the present and lower your stress and anxiety levels.
  • Self-care is very important. Focus on your mental health, and don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it.

Avoid trigger foods

Some types of foods can make a person more prone to having ulcers, or can make ulcers worse.

Here are some foods to avoid:

  • Coffee or caffeinated soft drinks
  • Chocolates
  • Food that’s too spicy
  • Alcohol should also be avoided, especially hard liquor
  • Acidic foods such as citrus fruits are healthy, but should be eaten in moderation

By avoiding these foods, you are reducing the chances that you might trigger an ulcer.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Jun 03, 2021

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