Definition & Overview

Gastritis is described as the inflammation of the stomach's lining. It is not a disease, but a condition that is caused by many different factors, such as excessive alcohol intake, stress, chronic vomiting, or certain medications. Infections, bile reflux, bacteria, and pernicious anemia are also some of the common causes.

In most cases, gastritis is not a serious condition. However, if left untreated, it will likely lead to excessive blood loss due to ulcers and/or stomach cancer.

The condition can be acute or chronic. Acute gastritis is described as a sudden onset of the condition. Chronic gastritis, on the other hand, develops over time.

Cause of Condition

The primary cause of gastritis is a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori, which can be found in contaminated food and water. It can also be transmitted from one person to another. Other common causes are the excessive use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), alcohol abuse, and abusing illegal drugs, such as cocaine.

Although not as common, gastritis can also be caused by stress, illness, surgery, autoimmune disorders, viral infections, digestive disorders, or severe injury.

It’s also important to remember that the stomach lining naturally thins due to age, which makes older people more susceptible to gastritis.

Key Symptoms

Although most people with gastritis will display symptoms of the condition, some may not display any symptom at all. For those who do display symptoms, the most common are pain, discomfort in the upper abdomen, nausea, vomiting, and indigestion. If the condition is classified as erosive gastritis, the patient will normally experience symptoms such as black stool and/or vomiting blood.

Gastritis can also develop complications. Although rare, there is a possibility that chronic gastritis may lead to stomach cancer, especially when there is an excessive thinning of the stomach lining and changes in the lining’s cells. In such cases, the symptoms of stomach cancer will also be present.

Who to See & Types of Treatment Available

If you’re a heavy drinker, or if you take drugs frequently (whether illegal or pain medications) you’re at risk of developing gastritis. However, even people who do not take alcohol, pain medications, or illegal drugs can also be affected by the condition because bacteria also cause it.

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should consult your family doctor as soon as possible to determine the presence of the condition and to undergo treatment. If you choose to ignore the condition, it is likely that it will progress and cause further damage to your stomach. Your doctor will first examine your medical history, lifestyle, and then perform a physical examination. If the doctor suspects gastritis, you will likely undergo several laboratory tests to confirm the condition. These include tests for H. pylori, x-ray of the upper abdominal area, or an endoscopy.

An H. pylori test can be performed several different ways: by checking the blood, the person’s breath, or by checking the stool. When confirming gastritis using x-ray imaging, the patient is first asked to swallow a liquid that contains barium. The liquid coats the digestive system and makes it visible on the x-ray. This allows doctors to study the images and check for abnormalities. In an endoscopy, the doctor will insert a device called an endoscope down the throat and direct it to the esophagus, stomach, and small intestines. The endoscope has a video camera attached to the tip and a light source, allowing the doctors to visualize the images on a monitor.

Gastritis is usually treated using medications, but the type of medications will depend on the cause of the condition. If the cause is the H. pylori bacteria, antibiotics such as clarithromycin, amoxicillin, or metronidazole will be prescribed. If it were caused by an overproduction of acid, the patient will be given medications that block, reduce, or neutralize stomach acid.

It’s important to realize that it may take a while for medications to take effect. However, if the condition does not improve even after taking medications, you should inform your doctor immediately so that another treatment plan can be formulated.

Medical treatment for gastritis may not be enough to prevent it from reoccurring. In most cases, patients will also need to make lifestyle changes apart from taking medications. These include consuming less or avoiding alcohol altogether, managing stress, trying different pain relievers, eating smaller meals more frequently, and avoiding foods that irritate the stomach. Meanwhile, the best way to avoid H. pylori is to practice proper hygiene, like frequently washing hands, and cooking food thoroughly.

References:

  • Kuipers E, Blaser MJ. Acid peptic disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 141.
  • Lee EL, Feldman M. Gastritis and gastropathies. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 51.
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