Gastritis/Duodenitis

Written by Rose Kivi | Published on July 20, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP

What are Gastritis and Duodenitis?

Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining. Duodenitis is inflammation of the duodenum or the first part of the small intestine, which is located just below your stomach. Both gastritis and duodenitis have the same causes and treatments. Both conditions can occur in men and women and in people of all ages. The conditions are curable and do not generally cause lasting complications.

Types of Gastritis and Duodenitis

Gastritis and duodenitis can be acute or chronic. The acute forms come on suddenly and last for a short time. The chronic forms may progress slowly and last for months or years.

What Causes Gastritis and Duodenitis?

The most common cause of gastritis and duodenitis is a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. When large amounts of the bacteria invade your stomach or small intestine, inflammation can occur.

Helicobacter pylori can be transferred from person to person. It can also be transmitted through contaminated food and water, but this is uncommon in the United States. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, approximately 20 to 50 percent of people in the United States may be infected with Helicobacter pylori, and up to 80 percent of people in developing countries are infected with the bacterium (NDDIC, 2012).

Other common causes of gastritis and duodenitis include the long-term use of certain medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, or drinking too much alcohol.

Less common causes include:

  • Crohn’s disease (inflammation of the digestive tract)
  • an autoimmune condition (when the body makes antibodies that attack the cells lining the stomach) resulting in atrophic gastritis (destruction of stomach lining)
  • bile reflux (when bile flows from the duodenum into the stomach) )
  • having certain viral infections—such as herpes simplex virus—along with a weak immune system
  • traumatic injury to your stomach or small intestine
  • being placed on a breathing machine
  • extreme stress caused by major surgery, severe body trauma, shock
  • ingesting caustic substances or poisons
  • excessive cigarette smoking and alcohol ingestion
  • radiation therapy for cancer
  • chemotherapy for cancer

Gastritis, Duodenitis, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the chronic inflammation of all or part of the digestive tract. The exact cause is unknown, however doctors believe that IBD can be the result of immune disorders or heredity. Examples of IBD include ulcerative colitis (inflammation of the colon and rectum) and Crohn’s disease, which can affect any part of the digestive tract and often spreads beyond the intestinal lining and into other tissues.

A study published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases reported that people with inflammatory bowel disease are much more likely to develop a form of gastritis or duodenitis that is not caused by Helicobacter pylori than people who do not have the disease (Sonnenberg, et al., 2010).

What Are the Symptoms of Gastritis and Duodenitis?

Gastritis and duodenitis do not always produce signs or symptoms. When they do, common symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • burning, cramping feeling in the stomach
  • indigestion or feeling full after you begin eating or shortly afterwards

In some cases, feces may appear black in color and vomit may look like used coffee grounds, which can indicate internal bleeding. If you experience either of these symptoms, contact your doctor right away.

How Are Gastritis and Duodenitis Diagnosed?

There are several tests your doctor can use to diagnose gastritis and duodenitis. Helicobacter pylori can be detected through blood, stool, or breath tests. For a breath test, you will be instructed to drink a clear, tasteless liquid and then breathe into a bag. If you are infected with helicobacter pylori,extra carbon dioxide gas can be detected in your breath.

Your doctor may also perform an upper endoscopy with biopsy. During this procedure, a small camera attached to a long, thin, flexible tube, an endoscope, is moved down the throat to look into the stomach or small intestine to check for inflammation. If inflammation can’t be detected visually, your doctor may take a few small tissue samples for further testing.

How Are Gastritis and Duodenitis Treated?

Depending on the cause of your condition, your symptoms may go away without treatment. The type of care you receive will depend on the cause and severity of your gastritis or duodenitis. Usually, gastritis and duodenitis clear up without complications.

Antibiotics

Helicobacter pylori infections are treated with antibiotics. Your doctor may recommend a combination of drugs to kill the infection, and most people will need to take antibiotics for two weeks or longer.

Acid Reducers

Over-the-counter acid blockers (drugs that work to reduce the amount of acid released into your digestive tract) such as cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), and ranitidine (Zantac) may be recommended.

Proton pump inhibitors (drugs that block cells that produce acid) such as esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), and omeprazole (Prilosec) are also used to treat these conditions. Your doctor may prescribe prescription-strength acid reducers to keep stomach acid from irritating the lining of your digestive tract.

Antacids

Your doctor may suggest antacids, such as Rolaids®, calcium carbonate (Tums), Alka-Seltzer, or magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia) to neutralize stomach acid and relieve pain. Antacids can prevent your body from absorbing other medications so it is recommended that you take antacids at least an hour before other medications to avoid this side effect.

Lifestyle Changes

Avoid smoking, alcohol, spicy foods, acidic beverages, and medications (such as aspirin) that are hard on the stomach. All of these can make your symptoms worse.

Untreated cases of gastritis and/or duodenitis can become chronic. This can lead to stomach ulcers and stomach bleeding. In rare cases, extensive thinning of the stomach lining can change the lining’s cells over time, increasing the risk of developing stomach cancer.

When Should You Call Your Doctor?

Make an appointment with your doctor if your symptoms do not go away with treatment. Call your doctor immediately if:

  • you have a fever of 100.4 degrees F or higher
  • your vomit looks like used coffee grounds
  • your feces are black or tarry
  • you have severe abdominal pain
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