Real causes of stomach ulcers and why skipping meals does not cause stomach ulcers

A girl having stomach pain due to ulcer

We are often asked to avoid skipping meals to avoid developing stomach ulcers. Different theories of what causes stomach ulcers have been raised, including stress and skipping meals. But does skipping meals really cause stomach ulcers?

Scientific evidence, as discussed in this article, has shown that skipping meals such as breakfast does not cause stomach ulcers. This means not eating food (e.g., skipping dinner) will not cause you to develop an ulcer.

Are you wondering if skipping meals can cause gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)? You can read another exclusive article that discusses the link between skipping meals and gastritis.

“Ulcer” is a common medical term used by many people. However, not everyone understands what an ulcer means.

This article will explore all you need to know about stomach ulcers, their causes, and their symptoms. It will also discuss common stomach ulcer myths, such as the link between skipping meals and ulcer development.

What is a stomach ulcer?

A stomach ulcer, also called a gastric ulcer, is a sore that develops on the stomach. When an ulcer affects the esophagus and small intestine lining, it is called a peptic ulcer. Stomach ulcers occur when stomach acid, known as gastric acid, erodes the lining of the digestive tract, creating sores.

Peptic ulcers cannot be seen; however, they present with symptoms like stomach pain.

Stomach ulcers usually don’t heal fast and keep reoccurring. Ulcers can also occur as sores on the outside of the body (the skin), such as leg ulcers.

There are numerous false theories floating around today about what causes stomach ulcers. Some people think that worms burrowing into the stomach linings are to blame, while others think that the abrasive movement of food particles against the stomach walls is to blame.

Meal pattern and Helicobacter pylori infection

Not eating food occasionally (skipping meals) or diet timing is not the primary cause of ulcers, but it still plays a role. According to research, irregular meal timing is associated with increased Helicobacter pylori infection and gastritis.

The study found that deviating from the regular meal pattern or timing by 2 hours or more caused a thirteenfold increase in the risk of developing H. pylori infection with gastritis. This also indicates that skipping meals may not cause gastritis but can increase its risk.

Aside from its association with the H. pylori bacteria, skipping meals or having an irregular meal pattern can contribute to increased gastric and duodenal acid load, worsening peptic ulcer symptoms.

Causes of stomach ulcers

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A bacteria called Helicobacter pylori is one of the primary causes of stomach ulcers. This bacteria is known to chronically infect more than half of the world's population. It has also been linked to other gastrointestinal diseases like gastritis and stomach cancer.

When the Helicobacter pylori bacteria infects an individual, it attacks the person's stomach lining, stripping the stomach of the layer of the gastric mucosa that protects it from its acid.

The stomach produces an acid called gastric acid, which aids digestion. At the same time, a lining called mucosa protects the stomach wall from its acid, but when this protective layer is stripped off, it leads to different health problems, including stomach ulcers and gastritis.

H. pylori is contractable from water, food, or cooking utensils. It can also be contracted through contact with infected individuals' saliva or body fluid. People living in areas with bad water or bad sewage systems are at a higher risk of contracting H. pylori.

Another common cause of peptic ulcers is the long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), e.g., ibuprofen and aspirin. Long-term use of these drugs can strip the stomach of its protective lining.

Also, in some rare cases, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome can cause peptic ulcers by increasing the body's gastric acid production. This syndrome causes less than 1% of peptic ulcer cases.

It is believed that diet, stress, and lifestyle habits can cause ulcers, but that is not true. Not eating or skipping meals like breakfast or lunch does not cause stomach ulcer.

However, while skipping meals does not cause stomach ulcers, one's meal pattern can limit, relieve, or adversely contribute to the development of a stomach ulcer.

Symptoms of Stomach ulcer

Not everybody who is infected with Helicobacter pylori develops a stomach ulcer. About two-thirds of the world’s population has H.pylori; however, it does not cause ulcers or any symptoms in most people.

Symptoms of stomach ulcers include:

  • Dull pain in the stomach
  • Severe sharp stomach pain
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain that may improve when you eat or take antacids
  • Bloating
  • Bloody vomit
  • Burping or acid reflux
  • Feeling easily full
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Trouble breathing

People with ulcers tend to feel the symptoms more when their stomachs are empty, leading them to think that skipping meals causes ulcers. 

There is no clear evidence that diet, lifestyle habits, environmental factors, or not eating food directly cause ulcers. However, if you have already developed the condition, eating food, drinking milk, or taking an antacid might help.

It is best to opt for healthy, balanced meals with lower acidity, fat, and less spiciness. Fatty, spicy, and highly acidic foods can irritate the stomach, worsening ulcer symptoms.

When to see a doctor

People typically get tested for ulcers when they experience ulcer symptoms. It is best to see your doctor once you notice one or more of the symptoms listed here whether you have been skipping meals or not.

Note that even NSAIDs like ibuprofen can damage your stomach linings, causing ulcers. So, it is essential to get a diagnosis from an expert so that the cause of your symptoms can be identified and the proper treatment be given immediately.


  1. Bernstein, Susan. (2020, December 7). What is H. pylori? WebMD.
  2. Lim, Su-Lin et al. “Irregular Meal Timing Is Associated with Helicobacter pylori Infection and Gastritis.ISRN nutrition vol. 2013 714970. December 30 2012. 
  3. National Organisation for Rare Disorders. (n.d.). Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome.
  4. Salgueiro, J et al. “Review article: is there a link between micronutrient malnutrition and Helicobacter pylori infection?.” Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics vol. 20,10 (2004): 1029-34.