What happens if ulcers go untreated?

Answered by John Hunt

If ulcers go untreated, they can lead to various complications and potentially serious health issues. One of the most common complications is internal bleeding. The ulcer can erode through the lining of the stomach or duodenum, causing blood vessels to break and resulting in bleeding. This bleeding can occur slowly over time, leading to chronic blood loss and eventually anemia. Anemia is a condition characterized by a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin, which can cause fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.

In some cases, the bleeding from an untreated ulcer can be more severe and require immediate medical attention. This may manifest as black or bloody vomit, known as coffee ground vomit, or black, tarry stools, referred to as melena. These symptoms indicate significant bleeding that should not be ignored.

If the bleeding continues or becomes more severe, it can lead to a hemorrhage, which is a more serious complication. A hemorrhage occurs when there is a large amount of blood loss, and it may require hospitalization and blood transfusion to replace the lost blood.

Another potential consequence of untreated ulcers is perforation. If the ulcer erodes deeply enough, it can create a hole in the stomach or duodenal wall, known as perforation. This can cause the contents of the stomach or intestines to leak into the abdominal cavity, leading to a serious infection called peritonitis. Peritonitis is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate surgical intervention and intravenous antibiotics.

Ulcers that are left untreated may also cause obstruction in the digestive system. The inflammation and scarring caused by the ulcer can narrow the passage in the stomach or duodenum, making it difficult for food to pass through. This can result in symptoms such as persistent nausea, vomiting, bloating, and severe abdominal pain. If the obstruction is severe, it may require surgery to remove the blockage.

Additionally, untreated ulcers can increase the risk of developing other complications, such as gastric outlet obstruction, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or even stomach cancer. Chronic inflammation and damage to the stomach lining can lead to long-term complications and potentially more severe health issues if left unaddressed.

It is crucial to seek medical attention if you suspect you have an ulcer or if you are experiencing symptoms such as abdominal pain, indigestion, heartburn, or changes in bowel movements. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent the progression of ulcers and minimize the risk of complications.