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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, have damage from pain relievers called NSAIDs, 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. This can be from serious or life-threatening health problems.
  • Long-term use of aspirin and over-the-counter pain and fever medicines

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. This is when your immune system attacks your body’s healthy cells by mistake.
  • Chronic bile reflux.  This is when bile backs up into your stomach and food pipe (esophagus). Bile is a fluid that helps you digest food.
  • Pernicious anemia . This is a form of anemia that happens when your stomach can;t digest vitamin B-12.

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 (abdominal) bleeding
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling of fullness or burning in your stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blood in your vomit or stool. This is a sign that your stomach lining may be bleeding.

The symptoms of gastritis may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is gastritis diagnosed?

Your healthcare 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 (EGD. 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. Your healthcare provider puts the tube into your mouth and throat. Then the provider moves it into your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Your 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. Sometimes you may have low levels of certain vitamins and need to take a dietary supplements.
  • Stool sample . This test checks to see if you have stomach bacteria that can cause gastritis. A small sample of your stool is collected and sent to a lab. Another stool test can check for blood in your stool. This may be a sign of gastritis if you have bleeding.
  • Breath test. You may have a test where your breath is collected and analyzed for a stomach bacteria.

How is gastritis treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

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, your provider will 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 more than 1 antibiotic and a proton pump inhibitor. A PPI is medicine that reduces the amount of acid in your stomach. You may also be given a medicine for diarrhea.

Don't have any foods, drinks, or medicines that cause symptoms or irritate your stomach. If you smoke, it is best to quit. If you take aspirin or NSAIDs often, talk with your healthcare provider about other options.

What are possible complications of gastritis?

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

  • Peptic ulcer disease. This causes painful sores in your upper digestive tract.
  • Gastric polyps. These are small masses of cells that form on the inside lining of your stomach.
  • Stomach tumors. These can be cancer or not cancer (benign).

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. It can also cause low levels of certain vitamins in your blood.

Can gastritis be prevented?

Experts don’t know 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. These include NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare 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.
  • Don't have foods or drinks that irritate your stomach lining.
  • Stop smoking.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
  • 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 name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • 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.
Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Medical Reviewer: John Hanrahan MD
Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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