Gastritis is a condition caused by an inflammation of the lining of the stomach. It can flare up suddenly (acute gastritis) or develop gradually over time (chronic gastritis). In many cases, people who have gastritis do not have any symptoms. Although it is common for people who experience abdominal pain to believe they have gastritis, this condition specifically refers to an inflammation of the lining of the stomach. The majority of people who experience abdominal symptoms are not suffering from gastritis. In most cases of gastritis, the inflammation and symptoms improve rapidly after treatment begins.
There are two types of gastritis: erosive and non-erosive. Erosive gastritis does not normally cause severe inflammation, but wears away the lining of the stomach. Non-erosive gastritis is less likely to damage the stomach lining but may produce more inflammation. Both types may be acute or chronic.
The most common cause of chronic non-erosive gastritis is an infection of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria. H. pylori are frequently transmitted from person to person, and in regions with poor sanitation habits can also be transmitted through food and water. Left untreated, this bacteria can cause ulcers or, in some cases, stomach cancer.
The most common cause of both chronic and acute erosive gastritis is the prolonged use of nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin. These medications wear at the lining of the stomach and can cause inflammation. Other causes of gastritis include pernicious anemia, alcohol, traumatic injuries, viruses, and digestive diseases.
Symptoms of gastritis vary from person to person. The most common ones include abdominal pain or bloating, indigestion, nausea, and a burning sensation in the stomach at night or in-between meals. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, hiccups, black, tarry-looking stools, and vomiting blood or a coffee-ground looking material. If vomiting this material or black tarry stools are present, seek medical care immediately. These are serious warning signs of stomach bleeding.
To diagnose whether a patient has gastritis, a doctor will perform blood tests to check for the presence of H. pylori bacteria and determine if the patient has anemia. The doctor may also want to perform an endoscopy. An endoscopy is a procedure in which a long, slender tube with a camera is inserted through the mouth into the stomach to examine the linings of the esophagus and stomach. Before deciding on an endoscopy, a doctor may first take gastrointestinal X-rays or run a fecal occult blood test to look for the presence of blood in the stool.
If a diagnosis of gastritis is made, the doctor will prescribe a treatment. Treatments for gastritis usually involve medications that decrease the amount of acid produced in the stomach. This includes antacids, which neutralize existing stomach acid: and proton pump inhibitors, which reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces.
If the gastritis is caused by H. pylori, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection in addition to acid blocking medications. Other treatments may include changing to another class of pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or naproxen sodium, and avoiding hot and spicy foods.
Although gastritis can be painful and have complications, it is usually not serious. The inflammation responds quickly to medication, and the pain and any other symptoms will cease soon after treatment begins. Treating the gastritis also eliminates the potential complications that can arise from gastritis, such as gastric cancer or peptic ulcer disease.