The definition of gastritis is simple. Gastritis occurs when the lining of the stomach is inflamed. Gastritis appears as a result of infection with the same bacterium that causes the stomach ulcers. Gastritis appears in two different forms. Either the pain appears suddenly and then it means that the patient is experiencing acute gastritis, or it appears slowly over time which means that the patient is dealing with chronic gastritis. There are also cases when gastritis leads to ulcers and has a high risk for stomach cancer.
Usually, gastritis appears as a consequence of using too many pain relievers or drinking too much alcohol. However, for most people, gastritis is not a serious condition and it can be cured very fast with treatment.
What Can Cause Gastritis?
Once the lining of the stomach is seriously damaged or very weak, then acute gastritis appears. This means that the digestive acids irritate the stomach. Acute gastritis can be caused by many factors, but the most frequent are the following:
- medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids
- bacterial infections such as H. pylori
- excessive alcohol consumption
This bacterium is present in the stomachs of more than half of the world’s population, and the infection continues to play a key role in the pathogenesis of a number of gastroduodenal diseases. When the gastric mucosa is colonized with Helicobacter pylori, the result is the development of chronic gastritis in infected individuals. There are some cases when chronic gastritis progresses to complications (e.g., ulcer disease, gastric neoplasias, etc). However, the infection with this bacterium does not always lead to gastritis. Over 80 percent of individuals infected with Helicobacter pylori are asymptomatic and it has been discovered so far that it may play an important role in the natural stomach ecology.
There are also other causes that can lead to gastritis. However, these causes are less common. They include:
- viral infections
- extreme stress
- autoimmune disorders, which may cause the immune system to attack the stomach lining
- digestive diseases and disorders such as Crohn’s disease
- bile reflux
- cocaine use
- ingesting corrosive substances such as poison
- kidney failure
- systemic stress
- being on a breathing machine or respirator
Most of the people who deal with acute gastritis do not have any symptoms. On the other hand, there are people whose symptoms range from mild to severe.
The most common symptoms that the people deal with are the following:
- loss of appetite
- black stools
- bloody vomit that looks like used coffee grounds
- pain in the upper part of the abdomen
- a full feeling in the upper abdomen after eating
Many of the symptoms above can be associated with other health conditions as well. Therefore, without discussing with a doctor first, it is very difficult to decide whether you are suffering from gastritis or not.
Moreover, there are some conditions that can cause symptoms similar to those of acute gastritis, including:
- peptic ulcers, which may accompany gastritis
- Crohn’s disease, which is a chronic inflammatory condition and can involve the entire digestive tract
- gallstones or gallbladder disease
- food poisoning, which can cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea
Gastritis can be determined by various risk factors, such as:
- Bacterial infection. Although infection with Helicobacter pylori is among the most common worldwide human infections, only some people with the infection develop gastritis or other upper gastrointestinal disorders.
- Regular use of pain relievers. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can cause both acute gastritis and chronic gastritis. Using these pain relievers regularly or taking too much of these drugs may reduce a key substance that helps preserve the protective lining of your stomach.
- Older age. Older adults have an increased risk of gastritis because the stomach lining tends to thin with age. Furthermore, older adults are more likely to have H. pylori infection or autoimmune disorders.
- Excessive alcohol use can irritate and erode your stomach lining, which makes your stomach more vulnerable to digestive juices. Excessive alcohol use is more likely to cause acute gastritis.
- Stress due to major surgery, injury, burns or severe infections can cause acute gastritis.
- Your own body attacking cells in your stomach determines autoimmune gastritis. This type of gastritis occurs when your body attacks the cells that make up your stomach lining. Autoimmune gastritis is more common in people with other autoimmune disorders, including Hashimoto’s disease and type 1 diabetes. Autoimmune gastritis can also be associated with vitamin B-12 deficiency.
How Is Gastritis Diagnosed?
Once you see the doctor and start talking to him about the symptoms, he is able to diagnose gastritis very fast. However, he can ask also to perform some exams that will clarify his suspicions.
- Tests for H. pylori recommended determining whether you have the bacterium H. pylori. H. pylori may be detected in a blood test, in a stool test or by a breath test.
- Using a scope to examine your upper digestive system (endoscopy). The doctor will use a flexible tube equipped with a lens (endoscope) down your throat and into your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine and he will look for signs of inflammation.
- X-ray of your upper digestive system. Sometimes called a barium swallow or upper gastrointestinal series, this series of X-rays create images of your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine to look for abnormalities. To make the ulcer more visible, you may swallow a white, metallic liquid (containing barium) that coats your digestive tract.
Treatment For Gastritis
When the doctor decides which treatment to use for gastritis, he first decides the specific cause that leads to this condition. Therefore, acute gastritis caused by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or alcohol may be relieved by stopping the use of those substances.
The following medications can be used to treat gastritis:
- Antibiotic medications to kill H. pylori – clarithromycin and amoxicillin or metronidazole to kill the bacterium. Be sure to take the full antibiotic prescription, usually for seven to 14 days.
- Medications that block acid production and promote healing. Proton pump inhibitors reduce acid by blocking the action of the parts of cells that produce acid. These drugs include the prescription and over-the-counter medications omeprazole, lansoprazole, rabeprazole, esomeprazole, dexlansoprazole, and pantoprazole.
- Medications to reduce acid production used to reduce the amount of acid released into your digestive tract, which relieves gastritis pain and encourages healing. Available by prescription or over-the-counter, acid blockers include ranitidine, famotidine, cimetidine, and nizatidine.
- Antacids that neutralize stomach acid in order to neutralize the existing stomach acid and to provide rapid pain relief. The side effects of this medication can include constipation or diarrhea, depending on the main ingredients.