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What is perforated stomach?

Perforated stomach

If you’ve been experiencing continuing severe stomach pain, there’s a chance it could be a perforated stomach. If that’s the case, it’s important to seek a medical evaluation.

Brett Dunbar, DO, a general surgeon with Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg, says perforated stomach can be fatal if a patient waits too long for treatment. 

“You might be experiencing a reflux, or discomfort in your upper gastrointestinal tract that feels like a heartburn or sour, acid stomach,” Dr. Dunbar says. “If it’s continuing and you can’t get relief, if you’re having to prop yourself up with pillows night after night in bed, you should talk to your primary care provider, who then might recommend you to a surgeon.”

A perforated stomach is a hole that develops through the wall of the stomach. While it’s a condition that’s considered a medical emergency — it allows the stomach contents to leak into the abdominal cavity, which in turn leads to a serious and potentially fatal infection called peritonitis — the surgery to repair it is straight forward, according to Dr. Dunbar.

“The tear could be tiny, or it could be golf ball-sized,” Dr. Dunbar says. “No matter the size, the important thing is to get the hole closed.”

Causes might be from diet, ulcers left untreated, inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s or diverticulitis, or from trauma to the abdomen. 

Symptoms may include severe abdominal pain, nausea, fever, and vomiting. Patients might write off symptoms as being the result of something they ate, Dr. Dunbar noted.

To rule out a perforated stomach, Dr. Dunbar requests x-rays of a patient’s chest or abdomen to check for air in your abdominal cavity. He also requests a CT scan to check for the location of the hole, and he orders a test for a white blood count. If it’s unusually high, it indicates an infection.

Surgery is necessary to close the hole; recovery time varies depending on many factors, but usually ranges from a few days to a week.