Gastritis is inflammation in the protective lining of the stomach. Acute gastritis involves sudden, severe inflammation, while chronic gastritis involves long-term inflammation that can last for years, if left untreated. A less common form of the condition, erosive gastritis, typically doesn’t cause much inflammation but can lead to bleeding and ulcers in the lining of the stomach.
What Causes Gastritis?
The most common cause of gastritis is Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that infects the lining of the stomach. It’s usually passed from person to person, but it can also be transmitted in contaminated food or water.
Erosive gastritis is caused by the excessive use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen. Substances like alcohol and cocaine can be contributing factors as well. Other, less common, causes of gastritis are:
- stress caused by severe injury, illness, or surgery
- autoimmune disorders
- digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease
- viral infections
Am I At Risk for Gastritis?
If you regularly use common pain medications like aspirin, Advil, or Aleve, or if you take more than the recommended dose, you may wear away the lining of your stomach. Having a thin or damaged stomach lining raises your risk for gastritis. Being older also increases your risk. That’s because the stomach lining thins naturally with age.
What Are the Symptoms of Gastritis?
Gastritis doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms in everyone, but the most common symptoms are:
- nausea and vomiting
- a feeling of fullness in your upper abdomen, particularly after eating
If you have erosive gastritis, you might experience different symptoms, including:
- black, tarry stool
- vomiting of blood or material that looks like coffee grounds
How Is Gastritis Diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms and your family history. Your doctor may also recommend a breath, blood, or stool test to check for H. pylori.
In order to get a look at what’s going inside you, your doctor may perform an endoscopy to check for inflammation. The endoscopy procedure involves the use of a long tube that has a camera lens at its tip. Your doctor puts the tube down your throat, through your esophagus, and into your stomach. Your doctor may also take a small sample, or biopsy, of the lining of your stomach if he or she finds anything unusual during the examination.
Your doctor may also take X-rays of your digestive tract after you swallow barium, which shows up clearly on the X-ray images.
How Is Gastritis Treated?
The treatment for gastritis depends on the cause of the condition . If you have gastritis caused by NSAIDs or other drugs, avoiding those drugs may be enough to relieve your symptoms. Gastritis as a result of H. pylori is routinely treated with antibiotics that kill the bacteria. In addition to antibiotics, several other types of medication are used to treat gastritis.
Acid Blocking Medications
Medicines called proton pump inhibitors work by blocking cells that create stomach acid. Common proton pump inhibitors include Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium. However, long-term use of these medicines, especially at high doses, can lead to an increased risk of spine, hip, and wrist fractures.
Acid Reducing Medications
Medicines that reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces include Zantac and Pepcid. By lowering the amount of acid that’s released into your digestive tract, these medications relieve the pain of gastritis and allow your stomach lining to heal.
Your doctor may recommend that you use antacids for rapid relief of gastritis pain. These medicines can neutralize the acid in your stomach. However, some antacids can cause diarrhea or constipation.
What Are the Potential Complications from Gastritis?
If your gastritis is left untreated, it can cause bleeding in your stomach as well as ulcers. Certain forms of gastritis can increase your risk of developing stomach cancer, particularly in people with thinned stomach linings. Because of these potential complications, it’s important to consult your doctor if you experience symptoms of gastritis, especially if they are chronic. With prompt treatment, the prognosis for gastritis is very good.