What is Gastritis?
Gastritis comes in several forms, and is diagnosed using a series of examinations. Although gastritis is often non-threatening and improves quickly with proper treatment, there are also rare cases that may be more severe and possibly chronic. Acute gastritis is the term used for unexpected inflammation that occurs suddenly, while chronic gastritis describes the condition of consistent and slow growing swelling that occurs over time. Acute gastritis occurs in 8 of every 1,000 people, whereas chronic gastritis is more uncommon, and occurs in only two of every 10,000 people. The symptom period for cases of gastritis may also vary, ranging from a short episode to longer durations. However, most common cases of gastritis have a fast recovery once treatment is started. Gastritis can also be erosive or non-erosive; erosive gastritis causes shallow breaks or deep sores in the stomach lining while nonerosive gastritis causes inflammation of the lining of the stomach but does not come with erosions or ulcers.
Since gastritis causes swelling and inflammation of the stomach lining, gastritis may end up causing pain in the abdomen, or even a stomach ulcer and anemia if left untreated. The risk of developing stomach cancer also increases if gastritis is left untreated. Gastritis is a common condition and one to be aware of the next time you experience these symptoms. Overall, Gastritis accounts for around 2 million doctors’ office visits each year in the United States.
What Causes Gastritis?
There are two major causes of gastritis — nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs and the bacteria Helicobacter pylorior, H. pylori, a bacterium that exist in our stomach lining. However, gastritis can also be caused by surgical conditions, physical stress, infections, and social habits like excessive alcohol use.
Altogether, anything that causes stomach irritation, inflammation, or erosion can cause gastritis. The most common type of chronic gastritis, is caused by the H. pylori bacteria lives in the human digestive tract, which can also cause ulcers in the lining of the stomach and upper small intestine. If unnoticed and untreated, these ulcers can lead to gastritis or even stomach cancer further down the road. Gastritis is also caused by irritation in the stomach from using anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin. Daily aspirin use increases the risk of developing stomach ulcers, drastically increasing the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. However, aspirin is not the only type of drug known to increase the risk of gastritis.
Common medications that increase the risk of developing gastritis:
- Prescription steroids, like prednisone
- Potassium supplements
- NSAIDs, such as naproxen and ibuprofen
- Cancer chemotherapy medications
- Iron tablets
Other common causes of gastritis include bile reflux, or the backflow of bile created in the bile tract that connects the liver and gallbladder to the stomach. Excessive vomiting can cause weakness in the stomach lining. Things such as excessive drinking can also weaken the stomach lining and cause it to lose some of its protective cells that prevent stomach acid from damaging the stomach, a precursor to gastritis.
Additional conditions causing gastritis include autoimmune diseases, after-radiation cancer treatment, stomach operations, medical procedures like endoscopies and individuals who are critically ill or injured. Accidentally swallowing chemicals and objects including corrosives like acid or lye can also cause the stomach lining to weaken. Researching and learning about the different types of gastritis such as chronic, acute, atrophic, erosive, alcoholic, autoimmune, and antral gastritis are important when determining the next course of action for your needs.
Symptoms of Gastritis
Since gastritis is defined by the inflammation within the stomach lining, the most common symptom evident in gastritis patients is pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. It is possible, however, for some patients with gastritis to not have any symptoms, which makes diagnosis and treatment difficult. In contrast, a patient with erosive gastritis may suffer from multiple symptoms, which are mostly attributed to the resulting ulcers and stomach bleeding. These more severe symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
- Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)
- Vomiting (sometimes with blood involved)
- Black stool
- Red streaks or blood in stool
- Feeling faint
- Paleness of the skin
In addition to these acute physical symptoms, gastritis can also cause some more serious medical complications, especially if the disease manifests itself chronically. Listed below are many of the conditions:
- Peptic Ulcers: Open sores that can form in the stomach or the upper region of the small intestine. The most common cause of peptic ulcers is the overuse of NSAID medications like Advil, Motrin, and aspirin.
- Atrophic Gastritis: The accumulative loss of the stomach lining and/or glands. This is a serious condition that results from moderate to severe chronic gastritis that is not treated by a medical professional.
- Anemia: Since erosive gastritis often results in bleeding within the stomach, anemia can develop. Anemia occurs when a patient’s red blood cells are smaller and/ or exist in fewer quantities than normal. Treatment for anemia often includes medication containing some absorbable form of iron which helps the body replenish the production of red blood cells.
- Vitamin B-12 Deficiency: Gastritis can also cause a patient to not decrease in their ability to absorb Vitamin B-12. In a condition known as pernicious anemia, Vitamin B12 deficiency occurs due to a decrease in the production of factors key to the protein responsible for Vitamin B-12 absorption.
- Growths in the Stomach Lining: Chronic H. pylori gastritis increases the odds of developing growths or polyps that can result in a stomach cancer called gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma.
If you believe that you or a loved one are experiencing one or more of the above symptoms, you should see a medical profession to get a proper diagnosis and receive fast treatment.
Gastritis can often be cured by a lifestyle change. A general rule of thumb is to avoid foods that are very acidic, spicy, caffeinated, or excessively processed or packaged. In cases of infection by H. pylori, an antibiotic may be used to eliminate the infection. After consulting with a doctor, antacids and medication such as proton pump inhibitors or H-2 blockers can be used to lower the stomach acid level and increase the strength of the stomach lining. To read more about specific treatments for gastritis, learn how to treat gastritis or how to use home remedies for gastritis.
Effects of Gastritis During Pregnancy
Pregnant women are at an increased risk to develop gastritis, as they have a higher susceptibility to the H.pylori infection. Increasing chances of developing gastritis while pregnant are also due to hormonal changes and the pressure on the stomach of the fetus. Having gastritis while pregnant can lead to symptoms like vomiting, discomfort, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, bloating, and weak digestion. Some cases of gastritis while pregnant can be unique to the pregnancy, while other cases may be more chronic that may require special consideration after carefully being inspected by a physician.
Proper treatment by licensed doctors is critical as to not harm the baby and the mother while having gastritis while pregnant. Fortunately, there are ways that could help to protect women from exacerbating and developing gastritis while pregnant - the diet, being one of the most important ways relieve to gastritis symptoms. The pregnant woman should always ensure that all uncooked foods are washed thoroughly before consuming, and that cooked foods reach an internal temperature of over 160 degrees. Avoiding carbonated and caffeinated beverages and spicy, fried, acidic, or fatty foods are known to instigate an upset stomach from gastritis while pregnant. Eating a wide variety of vegetables, grains, and fruits can also benefit your health and alleviate gastritis symptoms. Also, it is imperative to avoid any amounts of alcohol or smoking, especially when the patient is pregnant.
In addition to watching one’s diet, there are numerous home remedies that are related to relieving gastritis symptoms, as some women may prefer them to medication while pregnant. These home remedies are meant to neutralize the balance of acids in the stomach, and help reduce the inflammation of the stomach lining to reduce abdominal pain and other symptoms. Examples include chewing on cloves after meals, drinking spinach juice, and drinking herbal tea. Other foods that may relieve gastritis symptoms among pregnant women are licorice, coconut water, garlic, and fennel seeds.
It is important to consult a physician for an accurate diagnosis before starting any treatment. If you or a loved one is experiencing gastritis-like symptoms, you can make an appointment with your primary care physician or see an urgent care in order to be tested.