Gastritis is a condition in which the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed. This condition may occur suddenly (acute gastritis) or may be long-lasting and recurring (chronic gastritis).

For most people mild cases of gastritis can be resolved using medication or through lifestyle changes. Chronic, acute gastritis can, on the other hand, last for years if left untreated. In some cases, it can lead to ulcers and increase the risk of stomach cancer.

The common symptoms of gastritis include stomach pain, bloating, and burning in the stomach. These symptoms account for approximately 1.8 to 2.1 million visits to the doctor per year in the US. It is especially common in people older than 60 (1).

Read on to know more about the causes, symptoms and risk factors of gastritis. Learn when to visit the doctor, how doctors make the diagnosis and how to treat this condition.

What is gastritis?

Gastritis is the term used to describe a group of conditions which cause the inflammation of the lining of the stomach (gastric mucosa). This condition can be classified as chronic or acute.

Acute gastritis

Acute gastritis involves sudden, severe inflammation. It can be further classified as erosive and non-erosive. In acute erosive gastritis, the mucosal cells are damaged or missing.

Chronic gastritis

Chronic gastritis involves long-term inflammation of the stomach lining. It causes thinning of the gastric mucosa and an increase in the inflammatory cells and can also increase the risk of developing cancer.

Atrophic gastritis

This form of gastritis causes a gradual loss of gastric glandular cells, which are replaced with intestinal or fibrous tissues.

This change increases the risk of malabsorption and autoimmune disorder reactions. This kind of gastritis can lead to hypergastrinemia, anemia and tumor growth.

what is gastritis

What are the common symptoms of gastritis?

People with minor cases of gastritis may not notice any symptoms. However, people with chronic or acute gastritis may experience some symptoms that include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • A feeling of fullness in the upper abdomen after eating
  • Burning or pain in the upper abdomen which may become better or worse with eating
  • Occasional belching or bloating

In the case of erosive gastritis, the patients may experience –

  • Black stools with tar-like or bloody color
  • Blood or material that looks like grounds of coffee in the vomit

What causes gastritis?

There can be many different causes of gastritis. These include –

1. Bacterial infection

pylori bacterial infection is one of the most common causes of gastritis. This bacterium spreads through food, water, saliva, and other bodily fluids.

This bacteria infects the lining of the stomach. Though many people are affected, not everyone experiences symptoms. This vulnerability to develop symptoms could be inherited or caused by lifestyle choices like diet and smoking.

2. Regular use of pain relievers

Taking painkillers like ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen can cause gastritis. These drugs reduce the vital substances that preserve and protects the lining of the stomach.

3. Excessive alcohol

Consuming excessive alcohol can erode the stomach lining, which makes your stomach more vulnerable to digestive juices. This erosion of the stomach lining can cause acute gastritis.

4. Stress

Stress due to major surgery, injury, burns or infections can cause gastritis.

5. Poor diet

A poor diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies like deficiencies in vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium, which can lead to gastritis.

6. Old age

As we grow old, our stomach lining begins to thin. This condition can make older people more vulnerable to H. pylori infections.

7. Autoimmune gastritis

Sometimes our body attacks the cells that line the stomach, and this wears away the protective barrier of the stomach.

8. Other conditions

Some other conditions that affect the digestive system like autoimmune disorders, bile reflux, food allergies, HIV, and herpes can also cause gastritis.

How long does gastritis last?

Acute gastritis can last from two to 10 days. Chronic gastritis, if left untreated, can last for years. If the underlying causes like excessive drinking, smoking or poor diet are not removed, it can continue and lead to complications.

Possible complications

Severe or untreated chronic gastritis can lead to complications.

  • Erosive gastritis can cause peptic ulcers. These ulcers, if not treated can cause internal bleeding and are life-threatening.
  • Chronic gastritis can lead to anemia.
  • It can also cause vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Abnormal stomach growths like polyps and ulcers can also be formed.

How is gastritis diagnosed?

If the symptoms are severe and are not responding to home treatments, you must visit your doctor. If you notice internal bleeding, seek medical attention at once.

The signs of internal bleeding include dizziness, weakness, black tarry stools, fresh blood in stools, and blood in vomit, difficulty in breathing or swallowing and confusion.

When you visit your doctor, he will perform a physical exam and ask about symptoms and family history. He will also prescribe a breath, blood or stool test to check for H. pylori.

The doctor can also perform an endoscopy to check for inflammation. Endoscopy involves inserting a long tube with a camera into the esophagus and stomach. The doctor may also take a sample of the stomach lining and biopsy it if they suspect something.

The doctor may also ask you to swallow a barium solution and take an X-ray to help you identify the areas of concern.

Treatment

The treatment of gastritis depends on its cause, type, and severity. Gastritis caused by H. pylori infection is treated with antibiotics and antacids.

If nutritional deficiencies cause it, then supplements are prescribed. Many gastritis medications help in reducing acid in the stomach.

These are the medications that are needed to treat gastritis –

1. Antibiotics

Doctors prescribe antibiotics like clarithromycin, amoxicillin, or metronidazole to kill H. pylori bacteria.

2. Proton pump inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors block cells that create stomach acid. These drugs include omeprazole, lansoprazole, rabeprazole, esomeprazole, dexlansoprazole, and pantoprazole.

Long-term use of these medications can lead to increased risk of hip, spine and wrist fractures.

3. Acid blockers

These medications help reduce the quantity of acid released into the digestive tract. This helps relieve gastric pain and encourages healing. Ranitidine, cimetidine, and nizatidine are the common acid blockers prescribed by doctors.

4. Antacids

Antacids provide rapid relief from gastric pain. They help by neutralizing the acid in the stomach.

Lifestyle and natural remedies

You can also reduce the symptoms of gastritis naturally by making some lifestyle and dietary changes.

1. Avoid foods that may trigger inflammation

One of the most critical steps to avoid gastritis is to make dietary changes. Avoid any food that may irritate the stomach lining. The poor diet promotes inflammation in the digestive tract and raises the risk for the leaky gut syndrome.

  • Eating smaller more frequents meals help ease the effects of stomach acid.
  • Finish your last meal of the day at least three hours before you go to bed.
  • Avoid packaged foods that are high in synthetic ingredients.
  • Reduce or avoid alcohol consumption
  • Avoid spicy food
  • Avoid citric foods and juices
  • Reduce salt in your diet
  • Avoid sugary drinks and consume more water

2. Consume nutrient-dense foods

Eating a healthy and balanced diet that is rich in anti-oxidants, fiber and probiotics help reduce the symptoms of gastritis. These foods include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole-grain bread, pasta, cereal, and rice
  • Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and sourdough bread
  • Lean proteins like fish, chicken, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds
  • Food with antibacterial properties like garlic, ginger, turmeric, cranberries, pepper, and cumin

3. Lower the use of over the counter drugs

People who chronically use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can also develop gastric problems due to changes in their stomach acids.

Overuse of painkillers like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen can reduce the critical substance that protects the lining of the stomach.

So, reduce the use of these medications and opt for more natural ways to treat pain. Essential oils like peppermint oil and magnesium supplements help deal with pain.

4. Exercise regularly

Sedentary lifestyle and stress can lead to inflammation which can cause damage to the digestive system. People, who are suffering from digestive issues, are advised to exercise at least 30 minutes every day.

Exercising helps boost immunity, balances hormones, reduces stress and keeps weight in check.

Stress can also increase the production of acid in the stomach, which can make gastritis painful. According to research people with higher stress have lower immunity and are more prone to H. pylori infections and inflammation.

Meditation, yoga, deep breathing and even tai chi can help lower stress.

Final thoughts

Gastritis is the inflammation of the protective lining of the stomach. Its most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, indigestion, bloating, and blood in stool and vomit.

It is caused by bacterial infection, overuse of painkillers, over-consumption of alcohol, stress, old age, poor diet, and some other health conditions.

There are different treatments for different types of gastritis like antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, acid blockers, and antacids.

However, you can also control the symptoms of gastritis by making some simple dietary and lifestyle changes. Eat healthy food, avoid food that causes inflammation, and exercise regularly, to naturally reduce gastritis symptoms.

Gastritis is the term used to describe a group of conditions which cause the inflammation of the lining of the stomach (gastric mucosa).