What is gastritis?

Gastritis is when your stomach lining gets red and swollen (inflamed).

Your stomach lining is strong. In most cases acid does not hurt it. But it can get inflamed and irritated if you drink too much alcohol, eat spicy foods, or smoke.

What causes gastritis?

Gastritis may be caused by many things.

It can be caused by diet and lifestyle habits such as:

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating spicy foods
  • Smoking
  • Extreme stress
  • Long-term use of aspirin and over-the-counter pain and fever medicines (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs)

Health issues that can lead to gastritis include:

  • Infections caused by bacteria and viruses
  • Major surgery
  • Traumatic injury or burns

Some diseases can also cause gastritis. These include:

  • Autoimmune disorders. When your immune system attacks your body’s healthy cells by mistake.
  • Chronic bile reflux. When bile, a fluid that helps with digestion, backs up into your stomach and food pipe (esophagus).
  • Pernicious anemia. A form of anemia that happens when your stomach is not able to digest vitamin B12.

What are the symptoms of gastritis?

Each person’s symptoms may vary. The most common symptoms of gastritis include:

  • Stomach upset or pain
  • Belching and hiccups
  • Belly or abdominal bleeding
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling of fullness or burning in your stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blood in your vomit or stool (a sign that your stomach lining may be bleeding)

The symptoms of gastritis may look like other health problems. Always see your health care provider to be sure.

How is gastritis diagnosed?

Your health care provider will give you a physical exam and ask about your past health. You may also have tests including:

  • Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series or barium swallow. This X-ray checks the organs of the top part of your digestive system. It checks the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of your small intestine (duodenum). You will swallow a metallic fluid called barium. Barium coats the organs so that they can be seen on the X-ray. 
  • Upper endoscopy, also called EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy). This test looks at  the inside of your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. It uses a thin, lighted tube, called an endoscope. The tube has a camera at one end. The tube is put into your mouth and throat. Then it goes into your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Your health care provider can see the inside of these organs. He or she can also take a small tissue sample (biopsy) if needed.
  • Blood tests. You will have a test for H. pylori, a type of bacteria that may be in your stomach. Another test will check for anemia. You can get anemia when you don’t have enough red blood cells.
  • Stool culture. This test checks to see if you have abnormal bacteria in your digestive tract. Abnormal bacteria may cause diarrhea and other problems. A small sample of your stool is collected and sent to a lab. Blood in your stool may be a sign of gastritis.

How is gastritis treated?

Your health care provider will make a care plan for you based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and past health
  • How serious your case is
  • How well you handle certain medicines, treatments, or therapies
  • If your condition is expected to get worse
  • What you would like to do

In most cases you will be given antacids and other medicines to reduce your stomach acid. This will help ease your symptoms and heal your stomach lining.

If your gastritis is caused by an illness or infection, you should also treat that health problem.

If your gastritis is caused by the H. pylori bacteria, you will be given medicines to help kill the bacteria. In most cases you will take 2 antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor (medicine that reduces the amount of acid in your stomach). You may also be given Pepto-Bismol.

You should not have any foods, drinks, or medicines that cause symptoms or irritate your stomach. If you smoke, it is best to quit.

What are the complications of gastritis?

Chronic gastritis hurts your stomach lining. It can raise your risk for other health problems such as:

  • Peptic ulcer disease, painful sores in your upper digestive tract
  • Gastric polyps, small masses of cells that form on the inside lining of your stomach
  • Stomach tumors, both cancerous and non-cancerous

You may also get atrophic gastritis. This can happen if your gastritis is caused by the H. pylori bacteria or by an autoimmune disorder. Atrophic gastritis destroys the stomach lining cells that make your digestive juices. This raises your risk for getting stomach cancer.

Can gastritis be prevented?

Experts don’t know it is possible to stop gastritis from happening. But you may lower your risk of getting the disease by:

  • Having good hygiene habits, especially washing your hands. This can keep you from getting the H. pylori bacteria.
  • Not eating or drinking things that can irritate your stomach lining. This includes alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods.
  • Not taking medicines such as aspirin and over-the-counter pain and fever medicines (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS).

Living with gastritis

Once you have been diagnosed with gastritis, follow your health care provider’s treatment advice.

When should I call my health care provider?

Call your health care provider if your symptoms get worse or if you have new symptoms. Call right away if you have bloody vomit, blood in your stools, or black, tarry-looking stools.

Key points about gastritis

  • Gastritis is a redness and swelling (inflammation) of the stomach lining.
  • It can be caused by drinking too much alcohol, eating spicy foods, or smoking.
  • Some diseases and other health issues can also cause gastritis.
  • Symptoms may include stomach pain, belching, nausea, vomiting, abdominal bleeding, feeling full, and blood in vomit or stool.
  • In most cases you will be given antacids and other medicines to reduce your stomach acid.
  • You should not have any foods or drinks that irritate your stomach lining.
  • You should stop smoking.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

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