Chronic gastritis involves swelling or inflammation of the stomach lining. If you have this condition, you might feel full after eating just a few bites. Chronic gastritis might be painless or cause you dull, persistent stomach pain. It occurs slowly over time, as opposed to acute gastritis, which comes on suddenly.
In some cases, chronic gastritis is associated with ulcers and may increase your risk for stomach cancer. In most people, however, the condition gets better quickly with treatment and has few lasting effects.
What Causes Chronic Gastritis?
A variety of medications and conditions can irritate the lining of your stomach, leading to chronic gastritis. Examples include:
- long-term use of certain medications (aspirin and ibuprofen)
- excessive alcohol consumption
- bacteria that cause stomach ulcers (H. pylori)
- certain illnesses (kidney failure)
- a viral infection in a weakened immune system
- persistent, intense stress
- bile flowing into the stomach (called bile reflux)
Who Is at Risk for Chronic Gastritis?
You are at greater risk for chronic gastritis if your lifestyle and dietary habits increase the acidic content of your stomach. If you frequently eat large amounts of fats, oils, and citrus fruits and drink lots of coffee, you are at greater risk for the condition. Similarly, drinking large amounts of alcohol long-term can lead to chronic gastritis.
A stressful lifestyle or traumatic experiences that increase anger and hostility can also increase the amount of acid in your stomach. If you have a weakened immune system or certain illnesses, like Crohn’s disease, you are also more at risk for chronic gastritis.
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Gastritis?
You may have this condition and not experience any symptoms. People who do have symptoms often experience the following:
- upper abdominal pain
- indigestion or bloating
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite or weight loss
In more extreme cases, you may experience stomach bleeding and/or black stools. Seek treatment immediately if you have black stools, vomit blood, or have a persistent stomach ache.
How Is Chronic Gastritis Diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms. A series of tests may also be necessary, including:
- a stomach ulcer bacteria test
- a stool test to look for stomach bleeding
- a blood count and an anemia test
- an endoscopy (a stomach exam using a camera attached to a long tube that is inserted into your mouth and down into your digestive tract)
How Is Chronic Gastritis Treated?
Your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce your stomach acid. The most common medicines to reduce gastric acid are antacids (Alka-Seltzer and Tums), H2 antagonists (Zantac), and proton-pump inhibitors (Prilosec) available both over-the-counter and by prescription. Reducing or eliminating aspirin and similar medicines is also recommended in order to decrease stomach irritation.
Your doctor might recommend a bland diet to reduce stomach irritation. Foods to avoid include:
- fried foods
- French fries or other vegetables fried in oil
- citrus juices
Recommended foods generally include foods with little oil, fat, caffeine, or citrus:
- all vegetables and fruits, except citrus fruits
- low-fat dairy products
- lean meats
- pasta and rice prepared with little or no fat
What Can Be Expected in the Long Term?
How well you recover from chronic gastritis depends on the underlying cause of the condition. If the problem is caused by an acidic diet, limiting certain foods and taking medication can keep your symptoms under control. Commonly, the condition will disappear and return again if you resume an acidic diet. If the condition is allowed to continue without treatment, risks include stomach bleeding and gastric cancer.
How Can Chronic Gastritis Be Prevented?
You can help prevent gastritis by monitoring your diet and stress levels. Limiting alcohol and aspirin intake may also help to prevent the condition.