Atrophic gastritis

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at November 4, 2016
StartDiseasesAtrophic gastritis

When the lining of a person's stomach has become inflamed, they may be suffering from atrophic gastritis (AG). This condition is often the result of a bacterial infection but could also be the result of an autoimmune disorder. A person will experience different levels of pain and discomfort in their abdomen


Definition & Facts

Atrophic gastritis disrupts the barrier of mucus protecting a person's stomach lining (gastric mucosa). This causes the acidic substances in a person's stomach that assist with digestion to cause damage. It is possible for this condition to occur when a person's immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in their stomach lining. This is referred to as autoimmune atrophic gastritis.

Individuals who suffer from this condition have an increased chance of developing gastric carcinoma. A person with an infection could experience digestive problems such as a deficiency of B12. This could cause them to develop anemia, iron deficiency, and more. 

Symptoms & Complaints

When people have AG, they may experience pain as well as discomfort in the upper portions of their body. The pain is often located between their chest and hips. Loss of appetite, abdominal bloating, diarrhea, belching, and more. In some cases, these symptoms can come and go, and in other cases they are chronic. Some people experience heart palpitations, weakness, feeling lightheaded, and ringing in the ears known as tinnitus.

In some cases, individuals develop a serious B-12 deficiency. This can result in them experiencing nerve damage. They will show signs of unsteadiness when they try to walk. Individuals could have numbness and tingling in their limbs as well as mental confusion. A person could also have symptoms that are nonspecific. These could include headaches, pallor, dyspepsia, and more.


When individuals develop AG, it is often caused by them having the Helicobacter pylori infection. It is common for this type of infection to occur during a person's childhood. The infection causes an initial inflammatory response which can develop into chronic inflammation. This may cause a person's intestinal cells to change.

AG can be spread from one person to another. It is possible for a person to develop AG by direct contact with saliva, vomit or feces from an individual infected with the bacteria. In some situations, it is possible for people to contact AG after eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated with the H. pylori bacteria.

It is also possible for individuals to develop AG from excessive use of certain drugs such as alcohol or cocaine. It has also resulted from allergic reactions, stress reactions as well as fungal infections. Some individuals have developed AG from bile reflux. Research has shown the majority of AG cases are a result of a person experiencing some type of infection.

Diagnosis & Tests

When an individual is suspected of having AG, their physician will want to know their medical history and family history. They will want to know about any past chronic symptoms as well as any recent travel to developing nations.

A physical examination will then be conducted. A physician will examine the patient's body where they are experiencing pain. They may tap or palpate a person's abdomen. This is to check for any type of tenderness or pain. A physician may listen to the sound of their abdomen using a stethoscope.

A patient may then be asked to have an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy or upper GI. During this procedure, a miniature camera with a light will be fed down a person's esophagus. It will be placed inside their duodenum and stomach. The camera will send video images to a monitor so a physician can examine the gastrointestinal lining of a person's stomach.

The endoscope is also able to use a small tool to perform a biopsy. This is when a small piece of the stomach's tissue is removed for examination by a pathologist using a microscope. This can be used to determine if a person has AG and its level of progression. 

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment a person receives for AG will depend on what has been determined to be its cause though generally involves the use of antibiotics as well as treating excessive stomach acid. When it has been determined to be the result of the H. pylori bacterium, the bacteria needs to be eliminated. A person could be prescribed antibiotics to destroy the bacteria.

If it is the result of excessive alcohol or dietary causes, it can be successfully managed by lifestyle changes. A person may be told to change their eating habits. This could include eating small meals frequently. A person may be asked to eliminate fried, spicy and acidic food from their diet. They could be asked to not consume carbonated drinks or caffeine. They may also be advised to stop smoking.

They may also be prescribed medications such as proton-pump inhibitors to block the production of acid in their stomach. People have also had success treating AG by learning to manage the stress in their life. Research has shown that stress worsens AG symptoms, so many have had success with such activities as yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, and more.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

It is not easy to prevent the development of AG. Medical experts believe the chances of avoiding the bacteria can be significantly increased by practicing good hygiene. This involves carefully washing hands after using the bathroom and before handling any type of food. Parents should thoroughly wash their hands after handling soiled linens or diapers and more.