Gastritis Overview

Inflammation of the Stomach Lining With Multiple Potential Causes

Man with indigestion
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Gastritis, which means inflammation of the stomach, can be a distressing and uncomfortable medical condition. The good news is that once the culprit behind you or your loved one's gastritis is found, it can usually be treated effectively. 

Causes of Gastritis

Gastritis has multiple causes including drinking too much alcohol, prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or infection with a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. Infection with a virus, fungus, or bacteria (other than Helicobacter pylori) can also cause gastritis

In addition, gastritis may develop after major surgery, traumatic injury, burns, radiation, or a severe illness. Certain diseases, such as pernicious anemia (an autoimmune disease) and chronic bile reflux, can also cause gastritis. 

Symptoms of Gastritis

The most common symptom  of gastritis is abdominal upset or pain. Other symptoms are belching, abdominal bloating, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and/or a feeling of fullness or of burning in the upper abdomen.

Blood in your vomit or black stools may be a sign of bleeding in the stomach, as gastritis can promote ulcers to form. If this occurs, it is important you seek immediate medical attention. Fatigue too may be a sign of bleeding in the stomach, as tiredness can occur with iron deficiency anemia (which can occur from blood loss). 

The symptoms of gastritis can come on suddenly and last for a short-time (as in the case of viral-induced gastritis). On the other hand, some people have chronic gastritis, which means the symptoms persist for months, even years.

Diagnosing Gastritis

Gastritis is diagnosed through one or more of the following medical tests:

Blood tests

The doctor may check your red blood cell count to see whether you have anemia, which means that you do not have enough red blood cells. Anemia can be caused by bleeding from the stomach. If you are anemic, your doctor will check your iron and ferritin levels (ferritin is a protein that stores iron). If you have iron deficiency anemia, your doctor will want to check for stomach bleeding. 

Your doctor may also check blood tests for pernicious anemia, including a vitamin B12 level. In pernicious anemia, your immune system cells attack cells in your stomach that allow vitamin B12 to be absorbed from food. So vitamin B12 levels are low. 

Stool tests

This test checks for the presence of blood in your stool, a sign of bleeding. A stool sample may also be used to test for Helicobacter pylori. 

Breath test

After drinking a liquid or swallowing a capsule, your exhaled breath is examined to see if Helicobacter pylori are present in your stomach.

A gastroenterologist (a doctor who specializes in disease of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines) eases an endoscope, a thin tube containing a tiny camera, through your mouth (or occasionally nose). The endoscope allows the doctor to look down into your stomach to examine the stomach lining. The doctor will check for inflammation and may remove a tiny sample of tissue for tests. This procedure to remove a tissue sample is called a biopsy.

Treating Gastritis

Treatment of gastritis usually involves taking medications called proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid and thereby help relieve symptoms and promote healing. (Stomach acid irritates the inflamed tissue in the stomach.) Avoidance of certain foods, beverages, or medicines may also be recommended.

If your gastritis is caused by an infection, that problem may be treated as well. For example, the doctor might prescribe antibiotics to clear up an H. pylori infection.

Once the underlying problem disappears, gastritis usually does too. Talk to your doctor before stopping any medicine or starting any gastritis treatment on your own.

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Article Sources
  • Feldman M, Jensen PJ. (2015). Classification and diagnosis of gastritis and gastropathy. In: UpToDate, Lamon JT (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA.