Pain Below Sternum

The Most Common Reason for Pain Below the Sternum

Often, pain below the sternum is attributed to gallstones or even indigestion. While gallstones and gall bladder problems are certainly common for many people, the pain is generally located below and to the right of the sternum. It is quite likely though, that if you are experiencing a burning pain below the sternum, it may be the result of peptic stomach ulcer disease. This article addresses this common ailment’s causes, symptoms, and possible treatments that you and your doctor can discuss.

This article was not designed to replace good medical consult. If you are experiencing any pain in your chest, or pain that won’t go away or returns frequently, you should seek medical attention immediately, as it may be the sign of a severe complication.

Peptic Stomach Ulcer Disease

Peptic ulcers are quite common and affect up to 10% of all Americans at one point or another in their lives. These ulcers are open sores inside of you that develop and form along the inner lining of your esophagus, stomach lining, or even the upper part of your small intestines.

Most people mistakenly attribute peptic ulcers to lifestyle issues, most commonly high stress and spicy food that the body can’t process well. While these things can certainly add to the condition, ulcers are actually caused by certain medications you may be taking as well as bacterial infections. The bacterium to blame is the corkscrew shaped one called Helicobacter pylori.

It should be noted that the ulcers are often connected to and can cause other conditions, such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).


There are several symptoms associated with peptic stomach ulcer disease. Most commonly, the main symptom is a burning pain that can be felt from the stomach all the way up to the breastbone. This pain below the breastbone occurs if the ulcer in question is affecting the esophagus—a very common problem.

This pain can be further identified by certain characteristics it may exhibit. For instance, pain of this sort will normally flare up at night or grow in intensity if you’ve not eaten recently. In addition to this, the pain will come back again and again, despite the use of antacids and other medications. It may also last anywhere from just a few minutes to several long, grueling hours.

Other symptoms may be present as well, although they are not as common. Some people with pain below the sternum due to ulcers experience drastic appetite changes, weight loss, nausea that may result in vomiting up dark red or black blood. You may also experience bowel movements that contain this dark colored blood.


Seeking medical attention and proper treatment is incredibly important. If left untreated, a hole may develop in your inner lining and infection may spread to your abdominal cavity. In addition to this, scar tissue may develop that can block off part of your digestive track. Also, internal bleeding resulting in the need for a transfusion may also occur. Because of this, treatment is necessary, as this problem cannot be dealt with at home.

When treating this problem, your doctor will use a two-way attack. The first step for your doctor is to kill the Helicobacter pylorus that is causing the problem to begin with. After that, your doctor can begin to focus on reducing the amount of acid in your system. Lowering your acid levels will help ease the pain for you and greatly improve the rapidity of the healing process.

Generally a few medications are required to accomplish this, but no less than two. You will start off with an antibiotic to kill the actual bacteria, and then your doctor will determine the proper medication to help with blocking the acid.