Your stomach lining, or mucosa, has glands that produce stomach acid and other important compounds. One example is the enzyme pepsin. While your stomach acid breaks down food and protects you from infection, pepsin breaks down protein. The acid in your stomach is strong enough to damage your stomach. So, your stomach lining secretes mucus to protect itself.
Chronic gastritis occurs when your stomach lining becomes inflamed. Bacteria, consuming too much alcohol, certain medications, chronic stress, or other immune system problems can lead to inflammation. When inflammation occurs, your stomach lining changes and loses some of its protective cells. It may also cause early satiety. This is where your stomach feels full after eating just a few bites of food.
Because chronic gastritis occurs over a long period of time it gradually wears away at your stomach lining. And it can cause metaplasia or dysplasia. These are precancerous changes in your cells that can lead to cancer if untreated.
Chronic gastritis usually gets better with treatment, but may need ongoing monitoring.
Several types of chronic gastritis exist, and they can have different causes:
- Type A is caused by your immune system destroying stomach cells. And it can increase your risk of vitamin deficiencies, anemia, and cancer.
- Type B, the most common type, is caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria, and can cause stomach ulcers, intestinal ulcers, and cancer.
- Type C is caused by chemical irritants like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), alcohol, or bile. And it can also cause stomach lining erosion and bleeding.
Other types of gastritis include giant hypertrophic gastritis, which can be related to protein deficiencies. There is also eosinophilic gastritis, which can happen alongside other allergic conditions like asthma or eczema.
Chronic gastritis doesn’t always result in symptoms. But people who do have symptoms often experience:
The following can irritate the lining of your stomach and lead to chronic gastritis:
- long-term use of certain medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- excessive alcohol consumption
- the presence of H. pylori bacteria
- certain illnesses, such as diabetes or kidney failure
- a weakened immune system
- persistent, intense stress that also affects the immune system
- bile flowing into the stomach, or bile reflux
Your risk for chronic gastritis increases if your lifestyle and dietary habits activate changes in the stomach lining. It may be useful to avoid:
- high-fat diet
- high-salt diet
Long-term consumption of alcohol can also lead to chronic gastritis.
A stressful lifestyle or a traumatic experience can also decrease your stomach’s ability to protect itself. In addition, your risk increases if you have autoimmune diseases or certain illnesses like Crohn’s disease.
Stomach irritation is common, but it isn’t always a symptom of chronic gastritis. Call your doctor if your stomach irritation lasts longer than a week or if you experience common symptoms of chronic gastritis regularly.
Get medical help right away if any of the following occur:
- vomiting blood
- rapid heartbeat
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- extreme drowsiness
- passing out suddenly
Chronic gastritis puts you at risk for bleeding in your stomach and small intestine. Also seek treatment right away if you have black stools, vomit anything that looks like coffee grounds, or have a persistent stomachache.
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 cause stomach ulcers
- a stool test to look for stomach bleeding
- a blood count and an anemia test
- an endoscopy, in which a camera attached to a long tube is inserted into your mouth and down into your digestive tract
Medications and diet are the most common ways of treating chronic gastritis. And treatment for each type focuses on the cause of the gastritis.
If you have Type A, your doctor will likely address the problems related to the nutrients you are lacking. If you have Type B, your doctor will use antimicrobial agents and acid blocking medications to destroy H. pylori bacteria. If you have Type C, your doctor will likely tell you to stop taking NSAIDs or drinking alcohol to prevent further damage to your stomach.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce your stomach acid. The most common medicines to reduce gastric acid are:
- antacids, including calcium carbonate (Rolaids and Tums)
- proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole (Prilosec)
Reducing or eliminating aspirin and similar medicines is recommended to decrease stomach irritation.
Symptoms of chronic gastritis can sometimes go away in a few hours if medications or alcohol is causing your gastritis to act up. But typically chronic gastritis takes longer to disappear. And without treatment it may persist for years.
Your doctor may recommend changes to your diet to reduce stomach irritation. Things to avoid include:
- a high-salt diet
- a high-fat diet
- alcohol, including beer, wine, or spirits
- a diet high in red meat and preserved meats
Recommended foods include:
- all fruits and vegetables
- foods high in probiotics, such as yogurt and kefir
- lean meats, such as chicken, turkey, and fish
- plant based proteins like beans and tofu
- whole grain pasta, rice, and breads
Some foods may help your stomach get rid of H. pylori and relieve your symptoms:
- Garlic may have antimicrobial properties that are especially effective against H. pylori bacteria.
- Cranberries may kill the bacteria, along with changing how it interacts with the stomach.
- Ginger may block the growth of the bacteria.
- Turmeric may aid in healing ulcers and blocking growth of the bacteria.
Taking probiotics, especially ones that contain Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, may help improve the function of your stomach lining and protect it against bacteria that causes gastritis. Foods like kefir, sourdough bread, and yogurt are full of healthy probiotic bacteria.
Your recovery from chronic gastritis depends on the underlying cause of the condition.
If chronic gastritis continues without treatment, your risk of stomach ulcers and stomach bleeding increases.
As gastritis wears away at your stomach lining, the lining weakens and often causes changes in the cells, which can lead to gastric cancer. Your stomach’s inability to absorb vitamins can also cause deficiencies that keep your body from forming red blood cells or affect nerve function. This may lead to anemia.
You can help control the complications of gastritis by monitoring your diet and stress levels. Limiting alcohol and the use of NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin may also help to prevent the condition.