What is acute gastritis?
Acute gastritis is a sudden inflammation or swelling in the lining of the stomach. It can cause severe and nagging pain. However, the pain is temporary and usually lasts for short bursts at a time.
Acute gastritis comes on suddenly, and can be caused by injury, bacteria, viruses, stress, or ingesting irritants such as alcohol, NSAIDs, steroids, or spicy food. It is often only temporary. Chronic gastritis, on the other hand, comes on more slowly and lasts longer. Chronic gastritis might cause more of a consistent dull ache than the more intense pain of acute gastritis.
Gastritis is a separate condition from gastroenteritis. Gastritis only directly affects the stomach and may include nausea or vomiting, while gastroenteritis affects both the stomach and the intestines. Gastroenteritis symptoms may include diarrhea in addition to nausea or vomiting.
While the prevalence of chronic gastritis has decreased in developing countries in recent years, acute gastritis is still common.
What causes acute gastritis?
Acute gastritis occurs when the lining of your stomach is damaged or weak. This allows digestive acids to irritate the stomach. There are many things that can damage your stomach lining. The causes of acute gastritis include:
- medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids
- bacterial infections such as H. pylori
- excessive alcohol consumption
NSAIDs and corticosteroids (steroid hormone medications) are the most common causes of acute gastritis.
H. pylori is a type of bacteria that can infect the stomach. It’s often the cause of peptic ulcers. While it’s unclear how H. pylori spreads, it can result in stomach inflammation, loss of appetite, nausea, bloating, and abdominal pain.
Other causes that are less common include:
- viral infections
- extreme stress
- autoimmune disorders, which may cause the immune system to attack the stomach lining
- digestive diseases and disorders such as Crohn’s disease
- bile reflux
- cocaine use
- ingesting corrosive substances such as poison
- kidney failure
- systemic stress
- being on a breathing machine or respirator
Who is at risk for acute gastritis?
Factors that increase your risk of acute gastritis include:
- taking NSAIDs
- taking corticosteroids
- drinking a lot of alcohol
- having major surgery
- kidney failure
- liver failure
- respiratory failure
What are the symptoms of acute gastritis?
Some people with acute gastritis do not have any symptoms. Other people may have symptoms that range from mild to severe.
Common symptoms include:
- loss of appetite
- black stools
- bloody vomit that looks like used coffee grounds
- pain in the upper part of the abdomen
- a full feeling in the upper abdomen after eating
Some symptoms associated with acute gastritis are also seen in other health conditions. It can be difficult to confirm acute gastritis without talking to a doctor.
Contact your doctor if you have gastritis symptoms for a week or longer. If you vomit blood, seek medical attention immediately.
There are some conditions that can cause symptoms similar to those of acute gastritis, including:
- peptic ulcers, which may accompany gastritis
- Crohn’s disease, which is a chronic inflammatory condition and can involve the entire digestive tract
- gallstones or gallbladder disease
- food poisoning, which can cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea
How is acute gastritis diagnosed?
Some tests can be used to diagnose acute gastritis. Usually, your doctor will ask you detailed questions to learn about your symptoms. They may also order tests to confirm diagnosis, such as the following:
- a complete blood count (CBC), which is used to check your overall health
- a blood, breath, or saliva test, which is used to check for H. pylori
- a fecal test, which is used to check for blood in your stool
- an esophagogastroduodenoscopy, or endoscopy, which is used to look at the lining of your stomach with a small camera
- a gastric tissue biopsy, which involves removing a small piece of stomach tissue for analysis
- an X-ray, which is used to look for structural problems in your digestive system
How is acute gastritis treated?
Some cases of acute gastritis go away without treatment, and eating a bland diet can aid in a quick recovery. Foods that are low in natural acids, low in fat, and low in fiber may be tolerated best. Lean meats like chicken or turkey breast can be added to the diet if tolerated, though chicken broth or other soups might be best if vomiting keeps happening.
However, many people do need treatment for acute gastritis, with treatment and recovery times depending on the cause of the gastritis. H. pylori infections may require one or two rounds of antibiotics, which could last for two weeks apiece. Other treatments, like those used to treat viruses, will involve taking medication to reduce symptoms.
Some treatment options include:
There are both over-the-counter and prescription medicines for gastritis. Often, your doctor will recommend a combination of drugs, including the following:
- Antacids such as Pepto-Bismol, TUMS, or milk of magnesia can be used to neutralize stomach acid. These can be used as long as a person experiences gastritis, with a dose taken as often as every 30 minutes if needed.
- H2 antagonists such as famotidine (Pepcid) and cimetidine (Tagamet) reduce the production of stomach acid and can be taken between 10 and 60 minutes before eating.
- Proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole (Prilosec) and esomeprazole (Nexium) inhibit the production of stomach acid. They should be taken only once every 24 hours and for no more than 14 days.
Antibiotics are only necessary if you have a bacterial infection, such as from H. pylori. Common antibiotics used to treat H. pylori infections include amoxicillin, tetracycline (which shouldn’t be used in children under 12 years old), and clarithromycin. The antibiotic may be used in conjunction with a proton pump inhibitor, antacid, or H2 antagonist. Treatment typically lasts between 10 days and four weeks.
Your doctor may also recommend that you stop taking any NSAIDS or corticosteroids to see if that relieves your symptoms. However, don’t stop taking these drugs without first talking to your doctor.
Lifestyle changes may also help reduce your acute gastritis symptoms. Changes that could help include:
- avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption
- avoiding spicy, fried, and acidic foods
- eating frequent, small meals
- reducing stress
- avoiding drugs that can irritate the stomach lining, such as NSAIDs or aspirin
Alternative treatments for acute gastritis
According to research originally published in The Original Internist, certain herbs improve digestive health. They may also help kill H. pylori. Some of the herbs used to treat acute gastritis include:
- slippery elm
- wild indigo
- Oregon grape
Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in using herbs to treat acute gastritis, and ask how long you should take each of them. Some herbs may interact with other medications. Your doctor should be aware of any supplements you take.
Outlook for people with acute gastritis
The outlook for acute gastritis depends on the underlying cause. It usually resolves quickly with treatment. H. pylori infections, for example, can often be treated with one or two rounds of antibiotics, and it may take a week or two for you to fight off viral infections.
However, sometimes treatment fails and it can turn into chronic, or long-term, gastritis. Chronic gastritis also may increase your risk of developing gastric cancer.
Preventing acute gastritis
You can reduce your risk of developing this condition with a few simple steps:
- Wash your hands with soap and water regularly and before meals. This can reduce your risk of becoming infected with H. pylori.
- Cook foods thoroughly. This also reduces the risk of infection.
- Avoid alcohol or limit your alcohol intake.
- Avoid NSAIDs or don’t use them frequently. Consume NSAIDs with food and water to avoid symptoms.