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Gastritis

Overview

Gastritis is an inflammation of the protective lining of the stomach. Acute gastritis involves sudden, severe inflammation. Chronic gastritis involves long-term inflammation that can last for years if it’s left untreated.

Erosive gastritis is a less common form of the condition. It typically doesn’t cause much inflammation, but can lead to bleeding and ulcers in the lining of the stomach.

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Causes and risk factors

What causes gastritis?

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.

A gastrointestinal bacterial infection can also cause gastritis. The most common bacterial infection that causes it is Helicobacter pylori. It’s a bacterium that infects the lining of the stomach. The infection is usually passed from person to person, but can also be transmitted through contaminated food or water.

Certain conditions and activities may increase your risk for developing gastritis. Other risk factors include:

Other less common risk factors include:

  • stress caused by severe injury, illness, or surgery
  • autoimmune disorders
  • digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease
  • viral infections

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of gastritis?

Gastritis doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms in everyone. The most common symptoms are:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • a feeling of fullness in your upper abdomen, particularly after eating
  • indigestion

If you have erosive gastritis, you might experience different symptoms, including:

  • black, tarry stool
  • vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee grounds
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Diagnosis

How is gastritis diagnosed?

Your doctor will perform a physical exam, ask about your symptoms, and ask for your family history. They 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 want to perform an endoscopy to check for inflammation. An endoscopy involves the use of a long tube that has a camera lens at the tip. During the procedure, your doctor will carefully insert the tube to allow them to see into the esophagus and stomach. Your doctor may take a small sample, or biopsy, of the lining of the 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.

Treatment

How is gastritis treated?

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

Medications called proton pump inhibitors work by blocking cells that create stomach acid. Common proton pump inhibitors include:

However, long-term use of these medications, especially at high doses, can lead to an increased risk of spine, hip, and wrist fractures. It can also lead to increased risk of renal failure, dementia, and nutrient deficiencies.

Speak to your doctor before beginning one of these medications to create a treatment plan that is right for you.

Acid reducing medications

Medications that reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces include:

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.

Antacids

Your doctor may recommend that you use antacids for rapid relief of gastritis pain. These medications can neutralize the acid in your stomach.

Some antacids may cause diarrhea or constipation, so talk to your doctor if you experience any of these side effects.

Probiotics

Probiotics have been shown to help replenish digestive flora and heal gastric ulcers. However, there’s no evidence that they have any impact on acid secretion. There are currently no guidelines supporting the use of probiotics in ulcer management.

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Complications

What are the potential complications from gastritis?

If your gastritis is left untreated, it can lead to stomach bleeding 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 with your doctor if you experience any symptoms of gastritis, especially if they’re chronic.

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Outlook

What is the outlook for gastritis?

The outlook for gastritis depends on the underlying cause. Acute gastritis usually resolves quickly with treatment. H. pylori infections, for example, can often be treated with one or two rounds of antibiotics. However, sometimes treatment fails and it can turn into chronic, or long-term, gastritis. Talk to your doctor to develop an effective treatment plan for you. 

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