Can Stress Give You An Ulcer?

Have you ever had someone warn you to stop getting stressed so you won't give yourself an ulcer? Stress and ulcers are commonly associated with one another — but is there any real link between them? Can stress actually give you an ulcer?

Unfortunately, the answer isn't a simple "yes" or "no." We all know by now that while some stress is normal and ultimately harmless, too much stress is bad for your health. Living in a state of chronic stress has been associated with a host of health problems including a weakened immune system, increased blood pressure, heart disease, and mental health problems like anxiety and depression (via US News & World Report). But what about ulcers?

While health experts have varying opinions on the role of stress in the development of ulcers, most agree that stress by itself does not directly cause ulcers. Instead, the two most common causes of ulcers are a bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori and the heavy use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or aspirin, per Everyday Health.

Managing stress is important for overall health

"Studies to date show that stress alone does not cause peptic ulcers," according to Dr. Tara Menon, a gastroenterologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus (via US News & World Report). "However, we do know that if the body is under stress, [the] ability to heal itself is impaired. As a result, one may be more prone to developing a peptic ulcer."

Interestingly, there is a type of ulcer that is actually called a "stress ulcer." But the type of stress that causes these ulcers (which normally occur in the digestive tract) isn't mental or emotional, but physical. Stress ulcers usually develop in people who have already experienced severe physical trauma like a serious illness, surgery, or burns (via Healthline).

Even though stress doesn't appear to directly cause ulcers by itself, it may contribute to making them worse. Ulcers aside, managing stress is important for general health and quality of life. Dr. Menon adds that "controlling stress may help to reduce some of the symptoms of ulcers, such as heartburn or reflux," and emphasizes that stress management has an overall beneficial effect on health.