Everyone’s stomach has a coated, protective lining. Stomach acid and bile do not typically damage this thick lining, but if the stomach lining does become inflamed or irritated, it is a condition known as gastritis. Many different risk factors can lead to gastritis; some risk factors are related to lifestyle choices, while others are related to issues such as surgery or autoimmune disorders.
There are two types of gastritis: erosive and non-erosive. Erosive gastritis is the most common and also the most damaging. With erosive gastritis, the stomach lining is inflamed, and over time, the stomach’s protective lining will begin to erode. Erosive gastritis is significantly related to habits and lifestyle choices. Non-erosive gastritis, which is much less common, does not erode the stomach, however, the stomach is still inflamed. Gastritis are often chronic, but can also be acute, with symptoms appearing suddenly.
Many risk factors can lead to both types of gastritis. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the culprit behind most cases of chronic gastritis worldwide, but less so in the United States. Risk factors for gastritis include:
Indigestion and gastritis often get confused with one another, but they are not the same condition. Gastritis is an inflammation (and often erosion) of the stomach’s protective lining, while indigestion is a condition that typically manifested as abdominal discomfort, a feeling of stomach upset, or abdominal cramping when someone eats or digests their food. Symptoms of indigestion (also known as dyspepsia) should dissipate once food is finally digested, however, gastritis symptoms linger because the stomach is inflamed for an extended period of time.
Gastritis symptoms can mimic other GI disorders, and minor signs often get mistaken by patients as indigestion. Generally, if you have gastrointestinal disturbances that last longer than a day or two, you should consult your physician. It could just be a mild case of indigestion, or you may have a condition you need treatment for. Some of the symptoms of gastritis include bloating, nausea and vomiting, upper abdominal pain, no appetite, unexplained weight loss, and feeling “full” after a meal when you haven’t eaten much. More severe gastritis symptoms can include black, tarry stools, stomach ulcers, and the vomiting of blood.
Your healthcare provider will provide a consultation and physical exam, and based upon your symptoms, may order diagnostic testing. Because H. pylori are one of the primary causes of gastritis, many of these tests look for this bacteria. Testing for gastritis includes:
The treatment for gastritis depends upon each individual case and what is causing the condition. Your gastroenterologist may suggest lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol and quitting smoking. They may also suggest you no longer take over-the-counter NSAIDs. Medication is also used to relieve symptoms and reduce inflammation. If you have an H. pylori infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Other medications used to treat gastritis include proton pump inhibitors, H2 (histamine) blockers, and antacids.
If gastritis isn’t treated, it can lead to more serious problems. Untreated gastritis caused by H. pylori can lead to anemia, while autoimmune gastritis may cause pernicious anemia. The ulcers produced by gastritis can worsen, allowing bacteria to escape into the stomach and cause a condition known as peritonitis, a condition that can cause sepsis if not treated. Gastritis related to H. pylori is also a precursor to gastric cancer.
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