Gastritis describes a group of conditions involving inflammation of the stomach lining. Gastritis may occur suddenly (acute), or it can occur slowly over time (gastritis). In some cases, gastritis can lead to ulcers and an increased risk of stomach cancer. For most people, it isn't serious and improves quickly with treatment.
Signs and symptoms of gastritis may include:
- Gnawing or burning pain in your upper abdomen
- Nausea or vomiting
- An early feeling of fullness in your upper abdomen when eating
Nearly everyone has experienced indigestion and stomach discomfort. Most cases are short-lived and not serious. See your doctor if symptoms persist or if you are vomiting blood or have bloody stools.
Gastritis is most often the result of infection with the same bacterium that causes most ulcers. Injury, regular use of certain pain relievers and drinking too much alcohol may also contribute to gastritis. Gastritis may also develop as the result of an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue. In a condition known as autoimmune gastritis, the immune system attacks the cells of the stomach lining, which can wear away the stomach’s protective barrier to cause gastritis.
Types of Gastritis
There are two main types of gastritis: Erosive and non-erosive. People who have erosive gastritis experience both inflammation and erosion, or wearing away, of the stomach’s lining; it is often the result of using alcohol, NSAIDs, corticosteroids, smoking, or from infections or stress. Non-erosive gastritis involves inflammation of the stomach lining without erosion of the stomach lining.
Risk Factors for Gastritis
Certain factors can increase the likelihood that you will develop gastritis. These risk factors include:
Bacterial infection – infection with the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria may increase the body’s vulnerability to the development of gastritis in some people
Regular use of pain relievers – using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can cause both acute gastritis and chronic gastritis by reducing a substance that helps preserve the protective lining of the stomach
Being older – because the stomach lining often thins over time, older adults have an increased risk of gastritis; older adults are also more likely to have autoimmune disorders or H. pylori infection than are their younger counterparts
Excessive alcohol use – alcohol can irritate and erode the stomach lining to make the stomach more vulnerable to caustic digestive juices. Excessive use of alcohol is more likely to cause acute gastritis that chronic gastritis
Stress – severe stress from a major surgery, serious injury, burn, or severe infection can cause acute gastritis, sometimes known as stress gastritis
An autoimmune disorder – autoimmune gastritis is more common in people with Hashimoto's disease, type 1 diabetes, or other autoimmune disorders; autoimmune gastritis is often associated with vitamin B-12 deficiency
Other diseases and conditions – having certain other diseases or medical conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, Crohn's disease or parasitic infections, can increase the risk of developing gastritis
Your Northeast Digestive Health Center gastroenterologist may be able to diagnose gastritis following a physical exam. However, additional tests may be required to confirm or rule out other causes. This may include blood, stool or breath tests. Your doctor may order an endoscopy to examine for signs of inflammation. If a suspicious area is located, a biopsy can be taken during the procedure.
Treatment of gastritis depends on the underlying cause. Acute gastritis caused by frequent alcohol consumption or use of certain medications may be relieved by discontinuing use.
Chronic gastritis caused by bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics. In most cases, your doctor will recommend medications that treat stomach acid to reduce symptoms and promote healing in your stomach.
Complications of Gastritis
Left untreated, gastritis can cause complications. The specific complications depend largely on the type of gastritis a person has. Many types of gastritis can lead to stomach bleeding and ulcers, or sores on the lining of the stomach. Some types of gastritis can even increase the risk of stomach cancer, especially in people with thinned stomach linings.
Other complications of gastritis include:
Anemia – infection with H. pylori can cause gastritis or stomach ulcers that bleed, which reduces the number of red blood cells to cause anemia
Pernicious anemia – a type of anemia in which autoimmune gastritis prevents the digestive tract from absorbing vitamin B12, which the body needs to create red blood cells
Peritonitis – ulcers can break through the stomach wall and spill the contents of the stomach into the abdomen, potentially spreading bacteria to cause the dangerous infection known as peritonitis
Sepsis – ruptures and the spread of bacteria can cause widespread inflammation known as sepsis, which can be fatal
Frequently Asked Questions about Gastritis and Gastritis Treatment
What is gastritis?
Gastritis is a group of conditions characterized by inflammation of the stomach lining.
What are the symptoms of gastritis?
Some people with gastritis do not experience any symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, they include:
- Stomach pain
- Upset stomach
- Loss of appetite
- Belching, hiccups
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling full or experiencing a burning sensation in the stomach
- Blood in your vomit or stool, which is a sign that the stomach lining may be bleeding
How common is gastritis?
About 8 in every 1,000 people in the United States develop acute gastritis. Chronic gastritis is less common, affecting about 2 out of every 10,000 Americans.
Is gastritis contagious?
Gastritis is not a contagious condition, but the H. pylori bacteria can spread from the infected stool of one person into the mouth of another; good handwashing and sanitation are the first lines of defense against the spread of H. pylori.
What is the treatment for gastritis?
Treatment for gastritis depends largely on its underlying cause. Gastritis that develops as the result of H. pylori requires treatment with antibiotics to kill the bacteria, for example. If the gastritis is the result of using certain substances, such as alcohol or pain relievers, gastritis treatment involves avoiding those substances. Doctors may prescribe other medications, such as:
- Proton pump inhibitors to reduce acid
- Acid reducing medications, such as famotidine (Pepcid)
- Antacids that neutralize acid in the stomach