Acute Gastritis

Written by Rose Kivi and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD | Published on July 16, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Acute Gastritis?

Acute gastritis is a sudden inflammation or swelling in the lining of the stomach. It causes severe and nagging pain. Fortunately, the pain usually only lasts for a short time.

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 which can damage your stomach lining. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists the following causes of acute gastritis:

  • medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids. These are the most common causes of acute gastritis.
  • bacterial infections such as Helicobacter pylori. Between 20 and 50 percent of acute gastritis cases in the United States are caused by H. pylori.
  • excessive alcohol consumption

Other, less common causes 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
  • bile reflux
  • cocaine use
  • ingesting corrosive substances such as poison
  • surgery
  • kidney failure
  • being on a breathing machine (NIH, 2011)

Who Is at Risk for Acute Gastritis?

Factors that increase your risk of acute gastritis include:

  • using NSAIDs and corticosteroids
  • drinking a lot of alcohol
  • undergoing a 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:

  • appetite loss
  • indigestion
  • black stools
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • 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.

How Is Acute Gastritis Diagnosed?

A number of 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:

  • complete blood count (CBC) test to check your overall health
  • blood, breath, or saliva test to check for H. pylori
  • fecal test to check for blood in stools
  • esophagogastroduodenoscopy to look at the lining of your stomach with a small camera. This procedure may also be called an endoscopy.
  • gastric tissue biopsy to remove a small piece of stomach tissue for analysis
  • X-ray of your digestive system to look for structural problems

How Is Acute Gastritis Treated?

Some cases of acute gastritis go away without treatment. However, many people do need treatment for acute gastritis. The treatment used will depend on what is causing your pain. Some options include:

Medications

There are both over-the-counter and prescription medicines for gastritis. Often, your doctor will recommend a combination of drugs, including:

  • antacids: Pepto-Bismol and milk of magnesia can be used to neutralize stomach acid.
  • H2 antagonists: Pepcid and Tagamet reduce the production of stomach acid.
  • Proton pump inhibitors: Prilosec and Pepcid inhibit the production of stomach acid.

Antibiotics are only necessary if you have a bacterial infection, such as H. pylori.

Your doctor may also recommend that you stop taking any NSAIDS or corticosteroids to see if that relieves your symptoms. However, do not stop taking these drugs without first talking to your doctor.

Home Care

Lifestyle changes may also help reduce your acute gastritis symptoms. Try to:

  • avoid or limit alcohol consumption
  • avoid spicy, fried, and acidic foods
  • eat frequent, small meals
  • reduce stress

Alternative Treatments for Acute Gastritis

According to research published in The Original Internist, certain herbs improve digestive system health. They may also help kill H. pylori. Some of the herbs used to treat acute gastritis include:

  • slippery elm
  • myrrh
  • berberine
  • licorice
  • wild indigo
  • clove
  • Oregon grape

Talk to your doctor if you are interested in using herbs to treat acute gastritis. Some herbs may interact with other medication. Your doctor should be aware of any supplements you take. (Oliver, 2009)

Outlook for Acute Gastritis

The outlook for acute gastritis depends on the underlying cause. It usually resolves quickly with treatment. However, sometimes treatment fails, and it can turn into chronic (long-term) gastritis. 

Acute gastritis may increase your risk of developing gastric cancer. It may also increase the risk of gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma.

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 only use them infrequently.
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