Ultrasound scans are not a typical diagnostic tool for stomach ulcers. However, healthcare professionals may use them to track treatment progress and identify large ulcers.

Ultrasound scans use sound waves and computers to generate an image from inside a person’s body. While it can be a valuable tool for assessing several conditions, doctors do not typically use ultrasound for detecting or diagnosing stomach ulcers.

This article explores when ultrasound scans may be useful for detecting stomach ulcers and the procedure itself. The article also discusses stomach ulcer diagnosis and treatment.

A healthcare professional performing an ultrasound to diagnose stomach ulcers -1.Share on Pinterest
1467241231 ljubaphoto/Getty Images

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) lists several methods doctors use to diagnose stomach ulcers. However, ultrasound scans are not one of them. This may be due to their limitations in finding and identifying small ulcers in the stomach.

However, according to a 2017 study, an ultrasound may be effective in finding ulcers greater than 5 millimeters (mm) in combination with a contrast dye. Smaller ulcers are more difficult to find and diagnose with the same method.

These findings support a study from 2016 that found the use of contrast dyes helpful in detecting stomach ulcers.

Additionally, the authors of the above 2017 study noted that the location of the stomach ulcers can also make a difference in diagnosis. Ulcers in the antrum and body of the stomach were easiest to detect, even at smaller sizes in comparison with those in the fundus.

Finally, the researchers noted that ultrasounds may be helpful for monitoring ulcer treatments. For example, a doctor may use an ultrasound to see how much an ulcer shrank following or during treatment.

When investigating the stomach for ulcers or other potential health issues, a doctor may recommend an endoscopic ultrasound or transabdominal ultrasound.

With either technique, a doctor may recommend that a person drink a solution containing contrast dye. This may help doctors better identify ulcers.

Endoscopic ultrasound

An endoscopic ultrasound involves inserting a tube, or endoscope, that carries an ultrasound probe down the throat into the stomach. This type of ultrasound can help a doctor better visualize internal organs and structures in a person’s body.

A person should discuss any medications they are taking with a doctor before the procedure.

When the individual arrives at the hospital or outpatient facility, a healthcare professional will insert an intravenous line into the person’s vein via their arm or hand. The healthcare professional may also administer sedatives, which help the patient feel relaxed.

Next, the healthcare professional inserts the endoscope into the person’s mouth and down their throat into the stomach. They can then see inside the stomach and may also take biopsies, which are tissue samples.

Learn more about endoscopy.

Transabdominal ultrasound

A transabdominal ultrasound is less invasive than an endoscopic ultrasound. Doctors may use them to help diagnose and investigate various conditions, potentially including stomach ulcers.

The procedure involves pressing a handheld device onto the abdomen while a person is lying down. A healthcare professional will typically apply a gel to the device or the skin. They will then move the device around to different positions to get different views of the stomach or other areas of the abdomen.

Ultrasounds are not typically the first choice of test a doctor will recommend for stomach ulcers. Some more common testing and diagnostic techniques include:

  • Physical examinations: This often involves a doctor using their hands to press into the abdomen to check for pain and listening to the abdomen with a stethoscope.
  • Reviewing personal and family medical history: A healthcare professional may ask about current medications someone is taking and their history of stomach ulcers.
  • Urea breath test: Doctors use this test to check for a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection that may have caused an ulcer.
  • Blood tests: Healthcare professionals may use these to check for signs of an H. pylori infection or complications relating to ulcers.
  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy: During this procedure, a healthcare professional inserts an endoscope into a person’s throat and down into their stomach. Doctors use this procedure to confirm a stomach ulcer diagnosis and work out the underlying cause of the ulcer.
  • Upper GI series: In this procedure, a healthcare professional uses barium and X-rays to make an image of the stomach.
  • Stool test: This involves healthcare professionals in a laboratory analyzing a stool sample for the presence of H. pylori.

Treating stomach ulcers involves helping the ulcer heal and treating any underlying conditions, such as an H. pylori infection.

To help the ulcers heal, a doctor may recommend medications, such as proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers.

If a person’s stomach ulcer occurs due to taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, a doctor will most likely recommend stopping the medication. They may also recommend different pain relief medications.

If a doctor identifies an H. pylori infection, they will likely prescribe antibiotics with medication to help the ulcer heal.

If the ulcer does not heal after treatment, a doctor may recommend additional testing. This can help rule out possible underlying conditions. They may also recommend quitting smoking, if applicable, as it can slow the healing rate of ulcers.

An ultrasound scan may help healthcare professionals detect larger ulcers in the stomach.

However, ultrasound scans are not the typical method doctors use to check for stomach ulcers. Instead, they will likely review a person’s medication history, perform a physical examination, and order additional tests. These may include endoscopy, blood tests, and stool tests.

Once healthcare professionals have confirmed a stomach ulcer diagnosis, they will treat the underlying cause and may recommend medication to help with healing.