Gastritis refers to the irritation of the stomach lining, which occurs when the protective layer of mucus in the stomach is damaged, exposing the lining to stomach acids. Excessive consumption of alcohol and the Helicobacter pylori infection are often associated with gastritis.
Definition & Facts
Gastritis affects many people in the U.S. and the number continues to grow each year. Inflammation of the stomach lining results in a wide range of symptoms. All forms of gastritis are characterized by ulceration. Gastritis causes peptic ulcers, and chronic gastritis can lead to serious complications. It is very easy to confuse gastritis with other conditions affecting the gastrointestinal tract.
Many medical professionals believe that most infections with bacteria that cause gastritis occur during childhood. The distribution and prevalence of the bacteria that causes gastritis in the U.S. varies. H. Pylori bacteria is a type of bacteria that causes gastritis, and it is unaffected by the effects of stomach acids. This enables it to stay in the stomach for long periods.
Some medical experts believe that there may be genetic factors influencing the likelihood of certain individuals to experience gastritis. In addition, the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugss (NSAIDs) including aspirin, fenoprofen, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can lead to erosive gastritis and peptic ulcers. Consumption of alcohol and other corrosive agents like highly acidic foods may also cause gastritis.
Acute stress gastritis is the most serious form of gastritis and is often caused by injury or stress to the stomach lining. Chronic gastritis may cause atrophic gastritis, which causes the stomach lining to shrink and is often a precursor for gastric cancer. The initial stage of chronic gastritis is known as superficial gastritis.
Symptoms & Complaints
One of the notable signs of H. pylori gastritis is abdominal discomfort or pain due to the ulcers that the bacteria cause. Ulcers are characterized by a gnawing pain two to three hours after meals and at night when the stomach is empty. Less common forms of gastritis often have no specific cause and vary in their symptoms.
The use of NSAIDs is one of the common causes of gastritis. Other causes include stress from surgery, infection by the H. pylori bacterium and other microbes, excessive consumption of alcohol, cocaine use, and trauma resulting from critical illness and abdominal injuries.
Less commonly, gastritis can be caused by an autoimmune response which is when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own cells and tissues (in this case, the stomach lining). This often occurs when an individual already has another autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis or type 1 diabetes.
Diagnosis & Tests
Diagnosing gastritis involves knowing the medical history of the patient to determine if the condition was caused by prolonged use of NSAIDs, alcohol, or any other corrosive substance. Tests that physicians may use include a urea breath test in addition to other serological tests. An endoscopy test and/or a biopsy of the stomach lining may be required to rule out cancer or confirm the presence of H. pylori. Additional tests may be ordered to check for changes in gastric function.
Treatment & Therapy
There are two main treatment options for gastritis: medications and lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes may not only help treat gastritis but also other stomach conditions that are caused by gastritis. If a patient’s gastritis was caused by chronic use of NSAIDs, then the patient should stop using these drugs altogether.
The same applies if the gastritis was caused by heavy consumption of alcohol. Patients suffering from gastritis are advised to avoid eating and drinking spicy foods and strong tea or coffee respectively. The application of gentle pressure on certain regions of patients’ abdomen may help relieve abdominal pain.
At-home remedies involve changing one's diet though it is not proven by medical science to definitively treat the condition. Nevertheless, coconut water, spinach juice, and carrot juice may help reduce symptoms and can be prepared at home. Chewing roasted fennel after meals can also provide relief from gastritis.
Dietary supplements such as capsaicin, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and gamma oryzanol may help treat gastritis. Herbs that have been recommended for gastritis treatment include licorice, goldenseal, chamomile marsh mallow, slippery elm, echinacea, and geranium. Patients are often advised to eat foods rich in protein and starch.
Prevention & Prophylaxis
It is recommended to stick to a diet consisting of foods that do not irritate the stomach. The stomach can be irritated by foods such as grapefruit, tomato, coffee, tea, or milk that increase acid levels in the stomach causing pain, heartburn, and indigestion.
In addition, foods that cause gas including broccoli, cabbage, onions, milk, cooked dried beans and peas will increase discomfort for patients with gastritis. Drinking apple, pear, or grape juice in the morning and eating dinner early may all help prevent gastritis and its uncomfortable symptoms.
In addition to a good diet, medication helps to heal gastritis and provide relief from the abdominal discomfort associated with the condition. Some over-the-counter medications including antacids can help provide pain relief and reduce inflammation of the stomach lining. However, it is important to consult a doctor to discuss a plan for symptom relief and long-term treatment.