Gastritis commonly refers to inflammation of the lining of the stomach, but the term is often used to cover a variety of symptoms resulting from this inflammation, as well as symptoms of burning or discomfort. True gastritis comes in several forms and is diagnosed using a combination of tests. In the 1990s, scientists discovered that the main cause of most gastritis is infection by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori.
Gastritis should not be confused with common symptoms of upper abdominal discomfort. It has been associated with ulcers, particularly peptic ulcers, and in some cases, chronic gastritis can lead to more serious complications.
Nonerosive H. pylori gastritis
H. pylori gastritis is easily diagnosed through the use of the urea breath test. This test detects active presence of H. pylori infection. Other serological tests, which may be readily available in a physician's office, may be used to detect H. pylori infection. Newly developed versions offer rapid diagnosis. New stool antigen tests were developed and made available in 2002. The choice of test will depend on cost, availability and the physician's experience, since nearly all of the available tests have an accuracy rate of 90% or better. Endoscopy, or the examination of the stomach area using a hollow tube inserted through the mouth, may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis. A biopsy of the gastric lining also may be ordered.
Erosive and hemorrhagic gastritis
The most common cause of this form of gastritis is the use of NSAIDs. Other causes may be alcoholism or stress from surgery or critical illness. The role of NSAIDs in development of gastritis and peptic ulcers depends on the dose level. Although even low doses of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may cause some gastric upset, low doses generally will not lead to gastritis. However, as many as 10–30% of patients on higher and more frequent doses of NSAIDs, such as those with chronic arthritis, may develop gastric ulcers. Patients with H. pylori already present in the stomach who are treated with NSAIDs are much more susceptible to ulcers and other gastrointestinal effects of these pain killers.
Patients with erosive gastritis may also show no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include anorexia nervosa, gastric pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Other forms of gastritis
Specific treatment will depend on the cause and type of gastritis. These may include prednisone or antibiotics. Critically ill patients at high risk for bleeding may be treated with preventive drugs to reduce the risk of acute stress gastritis. Sometimes surgery is recommended, but is weighed against the possibility of surgical complications or death. Once heavy bleeding occurs in acute stress gastritis, mortality is as high as 60%.
Erosive or hemorrhagic gastritis
The patient's clinical history may be particularly important in the diagnosis of this type of gastritis, since its cause is most often the result of chronic use of NSAIDs, alcoholism, or abuse of other substances.
Some alternative treatments for gastritis follow mainstream medical practice in distinguishing between gastritis and other digestive disorders; others treat all disorders originating in the stomach in similar fashion.
Of all the alternative treatments for gastritis, dietary supplements of various types are the most likely to have been tested in clinical research. Some alternative practitioners have used the following supplements:
- Capsaicin. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers. One study in human subjects indicates that capsaicin offers some protection against gastritis caused by aspirin.
- Antioxidants. Vitamin C and beta-carotene given in combination appear to be beneficial to most patients with chronic atrophic gastritis.
- Amino acids. Several studies indicate that cysteine speeds healing in bleeding gastritis related to NSAIDs and in atrophic gastritis. Glutamine appears to protect against the development of stress-related gastritis.
- Vitamins. Preliminary research suggests that large doses of vitamin A may reduce or eliminate erosive gastritis. Vitamin B12 is helpful for patients with prenicious anemia related to atrophic gastritis.
- Gamma oryzanol. In one study, 87% of patients with various types of gastritis reported at least some improvement from a daily dose of 300 mg of gamma oryzanol.
Herbs that have been recommended for gastritis include:
- Licorice. Licorice is a traditional remedy for stomach inflammation. It also appears to inhibit the growth of H. pylori. People who gain water weight or develop high blood pressure as side effects of taking licorice can be treated with licorice that has had the glycyrrhizin removed.
- Goldenseal. This herb contains berberine, a compound with antibiotic properties. There is some evidence that berberine is active against H. pylori.
- Chamomile. Chamomile contains apigenin, a bioflavonoid that inhibits H. pylori, and chamazulene, a compound that counteracts free radicals.
- Marsh mallow and slippery elm. These herbs have demulcent properties, which means that they soothe irritated mucous membranes.
- Echinacea and geranium. These herbs are recommended by some practitioners for their antiseptic and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties.
Naturopathic practitioners also advise patients with gastritis to eat certain categories of food separately. Patients are advised to eat protein foods by themselves or with green leafy vegetables; to eat fruits alone; and to avoid combining proteins and starches.
One source recommends applying gentle pressure to a point on the abdomen known as CV (conception vessel) 12, midway between the navel and the breastbone. Pressure should be applied when the stomach is empty. Trained acupuncturists treat stomach problems by releasing energy from the spleen and from other energy points associated with digestion.
The Bow Pose is recommended by some teachers of yoga for stomach disorders because it puts pressure on a number of acupoints on the abdomen associated with the digestive process and with the stomach meridian.
Chinese herbal medicine
A trained reflexologist will gently massage the stomach reflexes located on the hands and feet. On the hands, the stomach reflexes are on the palms, below the pads of the middle and index fingers. On the feet, the stomach reflexes are located on the sole just below the pad of the big toe.
H. pylori gastritis
The discovery of H. pylori's role in the development of gastritis and ulcers has led to improved treatment of chronic gastritis. Since the infection can be treated with antibiotics, the bacterium can be completely eliminated
TRIPLE THERAPY. As of early 1998, triple therapy was the preferred treatment for patients with H. pylori gastritis. This treatment regimen usually involves a two-week course of three drugs. An antibiotic such as amoxicillin or tetracycline, and another antibiotic such as clarithromycin or metronidazole are used in combination with bismuth subsalicylate, a substance that helps protect the lining of the stomach from acid. However, this treatment often fails due to poor patient compliance and quadruple therapy is required.
DUAL THERAPY. Dual therapy involves the use of an antibiotic and a proton pump inhibitor. Proton pump inhibitors help reduce stomach acid by halting the mechanism that pumps acid into the stomach. Dual therapy has not been proven to be as effective as triple therapy, but may be ordered for some patients who can more comfortably handle the use of fewer drugs.
OTHER TREATMENTS. Scientists have experimented with quadruple therapy, which adds an antisecretory drug, or one that suppresses gastric secretion, to the standard triple therapy. One study showed this therapy to be effective with only a week's course of treatment in more than 90% of patients. The goal is to develop the most effective therapy combination that can work in one week of treatment or less.
Treatment of erosive gastritis
Patients with erosive gastritis may be given treatments similar to those for H. pylori, especially since some studies have demonstrated a link between H. pylori and NSAIDs in causing ulcers. The patient will most likely be advised to avoid NSAIDs.
The discovery of H. pylori has improved the prognosis for patients with gastritis and ulcers. Since treatment exists to eradicate the infection, recurrence is much less common. The prognosis for patients with acute stress gastritis is much poorer, with a 60% or higher mortality rate among those bleeding heavily. Recent studies have shown that infection with H. pylori and resulting gastritis may lead to such complications as chronic gastritis or as serious as gastric adenoma, a form of stomach cancer.
The widespread detection and treatment of H. pylori as a preventive measure in gastritis has been discussed but not resolved. Until more is known about the routes through which H.pylori is spread, specific prevention recommendations are not available. It was estimated in late 2002 that the organism was present in 80% of middle-aged adults in developing countries and about 20% of those in industrialized countries. Erosive gastritis from NSAIDs can be prevented with cessation of use of these drugs. An education campaign was launched in 1998 to educate patients, particularly an aging population of arthritis sufferers, about the risk of developing ulcers from NSAIDs and alternative drugs.
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Rebecca J. Frey, PhD
Teresa G. Odle
Table Of Contents
- Nonerosive H. pylori gastritis
- Erosive and hemorrhagic gastritis
- Other forms of gastritis
- Erosive or hemorrhagic gastritis
- Dietary supplements
- Herbal therapy
- Chinese herbal medicine
- H. pylori gastritis
- Treatment of erosive gastritis
- Expected results