Gastritis — inflammation of the stomach lining — has many possible causes. Find out how to relieve the distressing symptoms.
Gastritis is a general term for a group of conditions with one thing in common: Inflammation of the lining of the stomach. The inflammation of gastritis is most often the result of infection with the same bacterium that causes most stomach ulcers or the regular use of certain pain relievers. Drinking too much alcohol also can contribute to gastritis.
Gastritis may occur suddenly (acute gastritis) or appear slowly over time (chronic gastritis). In some cases, gastritis can lead to ulcers and an increased risk of stomach cancer. For most people, however, gastritis isn't serious and improves quickly with treatment.
Your stomach is a muscular sac about the size of a small melon that expands when you eat or drink. It holds as much as a gallon (3.8 liters) of food or liquid. Once your stomach breaks down the food, strong muscular contractions known as peristaltic waves push the food toward the pyloric valve. This valve leads to the upper portion of your small intestine, a segment known as the duodenum.
The signs and symptoms of gastritis include:
Gastritis doesn't always cause signs and symptoms.
Nearly everyone has had a bout of indigestion and stomach irritation. Most cases of indigestion are short-lived and don't require medical care. See your health care provider if you have signs and symptoms of gastritis for a week or longer.
Seek medical attention immediately if you have severe pain, if you have vomiting where you cannot hold any food down, or if you feel light-headed or dizzy. Tell your doctor if your stomach discomfort occurs after taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs, especially aspirin or other pain relievers.
If you are vomiting blood, have blood in your stools or have stools that appear black, see your doctor right away to determine the cause.
Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining. Weaknesses or injury to the mucus-lined barrier that protects the stomach wall allows digestive juices to damage and inflame the stomach lining. A number of diseases and conditions can increase the risk of gastritis, including inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn's disease.
Factors that increase your risk of gastritis include:
Your own body attacking cells in your stomach. Called autoimmune gastritis, this type of gastritis occurs when your body attacks the cells that make up your stomach lining. This reaction can wear away at your stomach's protective barrier.
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.
Left untreated, gastritis may lead to stomach ulcers and stomach bleeding. Rarely, some forms of chronic gastritis may increase your risk of stomach cancer, especially if you have extensive thinning of the stomach lining and changes in the lining's cells.
Tell your doctor if your signs and symptoms aren't improving despite treatment for gastritis.
Although your doctor is likely to suspect gastritis after talking to you about your medical history and performing an exam, you may also have one or more of the following tests to pinpoint the exact cause.
Tests for H. pylori. Your doctor may recommend tests — such as a stool test or breath test — to determine whether you have the bacterium H. pylori. Which type of test you undergo depends on your situation.
For the breath test, you drink a small glass of clear, tasteless liquid that contains radioactive carbon. H. pylori bacteria break down the test liquid in your stomach. Later, you blow into a bag, which is then sealed. If you're infected with H. pylori, your breath sample will contain the radioactive carbon.
Using a scope to examine your upper digestive system (endoscopy). During endoscopy, your doctor passes a flexible tube equipped with a lens (endoscope) down your throat and into your esophagus, stomach and small intestine. Using the endoscope, your doctor looks for signs of inflammation. Depending on your age and medical history, your doctor may recommend this as a first test instead of testing for H. pylori.
If a suspicious area is found, your doctor may remove small tissue samples (biopsy) for laboratory examination. A biopsy can also identify the presence of H. pylori in your stomach lining.
An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy involves inserting a flexible, lighted tube called an endoscope down your throat and into your esophagus. A tiny camera on the end of the endoscope lets your doctor examine your esophagus, stomach and the beginning of your small intestine, called the duodenum.
Treatment of gastritis depends on the specific cause. Acute gastritis caused by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or alcohol may be relieved by stopping use of those substances.
Medications used to treat gastritis include:
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 (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), rabeprazole (Aciphex), pantoprazole (Protonix) and others.
Long-term use of proton pump inhibitors, particularly at high doses, may increase your risk of hip, wrist and spine fractures. Ask your doctor whether a calcium supplement may reduce this risk.
You may find some relief from signs and symptoms if you:
Start by making an appointment with your health care provider. If your doctor suspects gastritis, you may be referred to a specialist in digestive disorders (gastroenterologist).
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For gastritis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:
Before your appointment, avoid drinking alcohol and eating foods that seem to irritate your stomach, such as those that are spicy, acidic, fried or fatty. But talk to your doctor before stopping any prescription medications you're taking.