Your stomach lining, or mucosa, contains glands that produce stomach acid and an enzyme called pepsin. Your stomach acid breaks down food and pepsin breaks down protein. The acid in your stomach is strong enough to damage your stomach, so your stomach lining also secretes mucus to protect itself.
Chronic gastritis occurs when your stomach lining becomes swollen or inflamed. Bacteria, excessive alcohol and caffeine intake, or stress can lead to inflammation. When this inflammation occurs, your stomach lining produces less acid, pepsin, and protective mucus.
If you have this condition, you might feel full after eating just a few bites. This is called early satiety. Chronic gastritis might be painless or cause dull, persistent stomach pain. It occurs slowly over time, as opposed to acute gastritis, which comes on suddenly.
In some cases, chronic gastritis is associated with ulcers and may increase your risk of stomach cancer. In most people, however, the condition gets better quickly with treatment and has few lasting effects.
You may have chronic gastritis and not experience any symptoms. People who do have symptoms often experience the following:
- upper abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
Stomach irritation is common and isn’t always a symptom of chronic gastritis. Call your doctor if your stomach irritation lasts for longer than a week.
In more extreme cases, you may experience stomach bleeding or black stools. Seek treatment immediately if you have black stools, vomit blood, or have a persistent stomachache.
The following can irritate the lining of your stomach and lead to chronic gastritis:
- the long-term use of certain medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- excessive alcohol consumption
- the presence of Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which causes stomach ulcers
- certain illnesses, such as kidney failure
- a viral infection in a weakened immune system
- persistent, intense stress
- bile flowing into the stomach, or bile reflux
You’re at greater risk for chronic gastritis if your lifestyle and dietary habits increase the acidic content of your stomach. If you frequently consume large amounts of the following, you’re at greater risk for the condition:
- citrus fruits
Similarly, the long-term consumption of alcohol can lead to chronic gastritis.
A stressful lifestyle or a traumatic experience that increases anger and hostility can also increase the amount of acid in your stomach. If you have a weakened immune system or certain illnesses like Crohn’s disease, you’re also more at risk for chronic gastritis.
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms. A series of tests may also be necessary, including:
- a test for the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers
- a stool test to look for stomach bleeding
- a blood count and an anemia test
- an endoscopy, which involves the use of a camera attached to a long tube that’s inserted into your mouth and down into your digestive tract
Your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce your stomach acid. The most common medicines to reduce gastric acid are:
- antacids, such as Alka-Seltzer and Tums
- H2 antagonists, such as Zantac
- proton pump inhibitors that are available both over the counter and by prescription, such as Prilosec
Reducing or eliminating aspirin and similar medicines is also recommended to decrease stomach irritation.
Your doctor might recommend a bland diet to reduce stomach irritation. You should avoid consuming:
- fried foods, such as french fries or other vegetables fried in oil
- citrus juices
Recommended foods generally include foods with small amounts of the following:
Recommended foods include:
- all vegetables and fruits, except citrus fruits
- low-fat dairy products
- lean meats
- pasta and rice prepared with little or no fat
How well you recover from chronic gastritis depends on the underlying cause of the condition. If an acidic diet is causing your condition, limiting certain foods and taking medication can keep your symptoms under control. Commonly, the condition will disappear and return again if you resume an acidic diet. If the condition is allowed to continue without treatment, the risks include stomach bleeding and gastric cancer.
You can help prevent gastritis by monitoring your diet and stress levels. Limiting alcohol and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, may also help to prevent the condition.