Gastritis Summary and Overview
Gastritis is one of the most common health conditions. It occurs when the stomach lining becomes inflammed and swollen. Gastritis can be brief and sudden (acute gastritis) or linger for months or years (chronic gastritis). Gastritis can have multiple causes and treatment depends on the exact cause.
There are several reasons why a person can get gastritis. These include:
- Extreme stress or trauma.
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs commonly known as NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen. These drugs stop the production of prostaglandins which protect the stomach from the stomach acid so that the acid only breaks down food. When taken over a long period of time, they can upset the acid balance of the stomach and cause gastritis.
- Cocaine use or other illegal, recreational drugs that affect the stomach.
- Excessive alcohol use.
- Inflammation and injury of the large intestine (Ischemia).
- Bacterial nfection of the stomach, most commonly with a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori.
- Viral infection, e.g. Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, Norwalk and others.
- Backflow of bile into the stomach (bile reflux).
Not everyone with an inflammed stomach lining has symptoms of gastritis. For those that do, one of the most common is discomfort in the abdominal area. It’s not unusual for the discomfort to get better after eating and worse with less food in the stomach. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting. Another common symptom includes a feeling of being bloated, or feeling that your stomach feels full. Indigestion and heartburn are also common with the condition. Because of these symptoms, gastritis can lead to a very poor appetite, and eating can make things seem like they are getting worse.
If gastritis becomes severe, symptoms include vomit with blood in it or black stools, an indication of blood in your digestive system.
Gastritis: Diagnostic Tests
In general, your doctor will probably be able to know your diagnosis by asking questions about your symptoms and giving you a complete physical exam.
However you may be require to take a number of tests to determine the exact cause:
- Endoscopy: The most common diagnostic test for gastritis is endoscopy with a biopsy of the stomach. The doctor inserts an endoscope, a thin tube with a tiny camera on the end, through the patient’s mouth or nose and into the stomach. Once inside, the doctor will use the endoscope to perform a biopsy, which involves collecting tiny samples of tissue for examination with a microscope. These will be sent to a lab for analysis.
- Upper gastrointestinal (GI) series. The patient swallows barium, a chemical element that makes the digestive tract visible in an X-ray. X-ray images may show changes in the stomach lining, such as erosions or ulcers.
- H. pylori Tests: Your doctor may order tests to determine whether the bacterium H. pylori is present in your body. H. pylori may be detected in a blood test, a stool test or a breath test. H. pylori infection can also be confirmed with biopsies taken from the stomach during endoscopy.
- Blood or stool test: these are to check whether there is bleeding in the stomach.
Gastritis Treatment: Options
In the United States, gastritis accounts for approximately 1.8-2.1 million visits to doctors’ offices each year. It is especially common in people older than 60 years.
The treatment of gastritis depends on what is causing it. Chronic gastritis can be caused by H. pylori, a bacterial infection. Your doctor will likely prescribe you antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, clarithromycin (Biaxin), metronidazole (Flagyl) and tetracycline.
Some gastritis medications work by blocking the action of the parts of cells that produce acid. These drugs are called Proton pump inhibitors. Examples include omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), rabeprazole (Aciphex), esomeprazole (Nexium), dexlansoprazole (Dexilant) and pantoprazole (Protonix).
If the gastritis is caused excess drugs or alcohol or by medications such as medications such as NSAIDs, then the patient is recommended to stop taking these and desist from drug and alcohol use. Your doctor will also likely recommend that you reduce stress and strive for a more balanced lifestyle, as stress is a risk factor for gastritis.
Most gastritis treatment plans also incorporate medications that treat stomach acid, called antacids. Examples include aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide. These reduce your symptoms you’re experiencing and promote healing in your stomach. They are safe and relatively cheap.
For natural treatments, some herbs that are known to help relieve gastritis and its symptoms. These include asparagus, bitter chamomile, cardamom, fennel, ginger, Indian gooseberry, licorice, rhubarb and sandalwood. Asparagus and rhubarb reduce hyperacidity while ginger and Indian gooseberry help in relieving dyspepsia symptoms. Cardamom, fennel and sandalwood have soothing effects on the stomach. Licorice can help protect the stomach from effects of NSAIDs as per University of Maryland.
Gastritis can have several causes, so while prevention is difficult, there are many things you can do to greatly reduce your risk. Alcohol, recreational drugs including cocaine and stress can exacerbate its development and symptoms. Foods that are spicy, fried, acidic or fatty can irritate your stomach, worsening its symptoms.
A common cause of gastritis is the H. pylori infection. Although the jury is still out on how it spreads, studies show that it can be spread from person-to-person through hand contact or through contaminated food. Maintaining good hygiene by frequent hand washing will help minimize its spread, as will eating foods that have been cooked completely and by preparing food safely.
Gastritis is a disease that affects the lining of the stomach. A common condition, it accounts for approximately 1.8-2.1 million visits to doctors’ offices each year. Gastritis has several causes and treatment depends on figuring out what caused it in the first place. Treatment depends on removing those stresses to the stomach lining, which may involve lifestyle changes. A number of traditional and natural medications target its symptoms and causes.