Gastritis is inflammation of the protective lining of the stomach. Acute gastritis involves sudden, severe inflammation, while chronic gastritis involves long-term inflammation that can last for years if it’s left untreated. A less common form of the condition, erosive gastritis, typically doesn’t cause much inflammation but can lead to bleeding and ulcers in the lining of the stomach.
Weakness in your stomach lining allows digestive juices to damage and inflame it, causing gastritis. Having a thin or damaged stomach lining raises your risk for gastritis. Also, certain conditions and activities increase your risk for developing gastritis.
A gastrointestinal bacterial infection can cause gastritis. The most common is infection with Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that infects the lining of the stomach. It’s usually passed from person-to-person, but it can also be transmitted through contaminated food or water.
Other risk factors include:
- extreme alcohol consumption
- routine use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin
- cocaine use
- age, because the stomach lining thins naturally with age
Other, less common, risk factors are:
- stress caused by severe injury, illness, or surgery
- autoimmune disorders
- digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease
- viral infections
Gastritis doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms in everyone, but the most common symptoms are:
- nausea and vomiting
- a feeling of fullness in your upper abdomen, particularly after eating
If you have erosive gastritis, you might experience different symptoms, including:
- black, tarry stool
- vomiting of blood or material that looks like coffee grounds
Your doctor will perform a physical exam, ask about your symptoms, and ask for your family history. Your doctor may also recommend a breath, blood, or stool test to check for H. pylori.
In order to get a look at what’s going on inside you, your doctor may perform an endoscopy to check for inflammation. An endoscopy involves the use of a long tube that has a camera lens at the tip. Your doctor puts the tube down your throat, through your esophagus, and into your stomach. Your doctor may also take a small sample, or biopsy, of the lining of your stomach if they find anything unusual during the examination.
Your doctor may also take X-rays of your digestive tract after you swallow a barium solution, which will help distinguish areas of concern.
The treatment for gastritis depends on the cause of the condition. If you have gastritis caused by NSAIDs or other drugs, avoiding those drugs may be enough to relieve your symptoms. Gastritis as a result of H. pylori is routinely treated with antibiotics that kill the bacteria. In addition to antibiotics, several other types of medication are used to treat gastritis.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
Medicines called proton pump inhibitors work by blocking cells that create stomach acid. Common proton pump inhibitors include:
- omeprazole (Prilosec)
- lansoprazole (Prevacid)
- esomeprazole (Nexium)
However, long-term use of these medicines, especially at high doses, can lead to an increased risk of spine, hip, and wrist fractures.
Acid Reducing Medications
Medicines that reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces include ranitidine (Zantac) and famotidine (Pepcid). By lowering the amount of acid that’s released into your digestive tract, these medications relieve the pain of gastritis and allow your stomach lining to heal.
Your doctor may recommend that you use antacids for rapid relief of gastritis pain. These medicines can neutralize the acid in your stomach. However, some antacids can cause diarrhea or constipation.
If your gastritis is left untreated, it can cause bleeding in your stomach as well as ulcers. Certain forms of gastritis can increase your risk of developing stomach cancer, particularly in people with thinned stomach linings. Because of these potential complications, it’s important to consult your doctor if you experience symptoms of gastritis, especially if they’re chronic. With prompt treatment, the outlook for gastritis is very good.