Everything You Need to Know About Gastritis

At a glance:

  • Gastritis is an inflammation, irritation or in serious cases, erosion of the lining of the stomach
  • Between 20% and 26% of the Australian population is affected by gastritis
  • Erosive gastritis can cause bleeding and ulcers in the lining of the stomach but is substantially less common than nonerosive gastritis, which causes inflammation
  • It is typically found in people between the ages of 15 and 50
  • Chronic gastritis is characterised as having long lasting symptoms such as loss of appetite and nausea
  • Acute gastritis typically has severe symptoms that may last for a few days 
  • Some people with gastritis are asymptomatic (have no symptoms)
  • Some forms of gastritis can be treated with lifestyle or diet, whilst others may require medication or other medical treatments

What is Gastritis?

Gastritis is an inflammation, irritation or erosion of the lining of the stomach that can be caused by a number of factors . Rather than being a singular disease, gastritis is a condition that can have a number of causes. No matter the cause, one of the most common characteristics of gastritis is pain or discomfort in the upper portion of the abdomen. This is sometimes referred to as dyspepsia.  

Depending on the cause of the inflammation, gastritis can be classified as chronic or acute, with the former being characterised by long term symptoms such as loss of appetite or nausea, and the latter by short term, severe symptoms lasting a day or two. Gastritis is a common condition, affecting roughly one in five Australians, typically between the ages of 15 and 50. Some people with the condition don’t display any identifiable symptoms.

Some forms of gastritis are significantly less common but can have much more severe symptoms. Erosive gastritis doesn’t typically cause much in the way of inflammation but can lead to bleeding or ulcers in the stomach. Chronic atrophic gastritis, a rare form of gastritis usually caused by the helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria is characterised by destruction of the mucosal barrier that protects the stomach and atrophy of cells in the lining of the stomach and can increase the risk of a person developing stomach cancer.  Pernicious anaemia (which is another gastric disorder), may be associated with chronic, atrophic gastritis.

Symptoms of Gastritis

In a number of cases, gastritis may be asymptomatic, but common symptoms experienced by people with acute and chronic gastritis include:

  • Loss of appetite - this is an especially common symptom in people with chronic gastritis
  • Nausea - usually accompanies a lack of appetite
  • Dyspepsia (indigestion) - discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen. In some cases the pain either worsens or presents after eating
  • Vomiting - all forms of gastritis can cause vomiting. Blood in the vomit is a possible indicator that the lining of the stomach has ulcerated. Depending on the severity of the ulceration, the vomit can be red or look more like coffee grounds 
  • Melaena - blood in the stool. Rather than being red, the blood makes the stool look dark or black and tar-like
  • Ulcers - an erosion of the lining of the stomach or small intestine leading to pain and bleeding
  • Iron deficiency anemia - atrophic gastritis can make it difficult to absorb enough iron, leading to anemia
  • Weight loss - weight loss is a common gastritis symptom, but sudden and unexpected weight loss can be indicative of H. pylori infection
  • Hiccups or belching 
  • Feeling bloated

A number of different factors can cause gastritis, from bacteria to lifestyle and autoimmune diseases. Potential causes of gastritis include:

  • Bacterial Infection - the helicobacter pylori bacteria is an extremely common bacteria that grows in the digestive tract. Around 50% of the global population are infected with H. pylori. In most people it has no effect, but in some it can have a serious effect on the mucus lining of the stomach leading to ulcers, gastritis and, if not treated over time, an elevated risk of stomach cancer. 

Helicobacter pylori infection is the primary cause of peptic ulcers as well as duodenal ulcers. Although some forms of gastritis can be controlled with diet, treatment should always be sought for H. pylori infection.

  • Long-Term Use of Medications - Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) used for the treatment or control of pain can lead to gastritis if used for a protracted period. Aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and other over the counter pain medications can all lead to development of gastritis if used frequently. 
  • Intense or Persistent Stress - stress has long been associated with digestive and gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, vomiting, indigestion and heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux due to a buildup of excess stomach acid. This buildup of acid can affect the lining of the stomach, leading to inflammation and irritation as well as the symptoms of acid reflux.
  • Reflux - gastritis can cause reflux and heartburn, but can also be caused by bile reflux. Bile,a digestive fluid produced by the liver flows from the bile tract into the stomach, disrupting the normal functioning of the stomach leading to irritation and inflammation.
  • Diabetes - gastrointestinal complications are common in people with diabetes. Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) can lead to symptoms of gastritis thanks to high levels of ketones in the body. People with type 1 diabetes also have a higher chance of developing autoimmune gastritis than the general public. An estimated 6% - 10% of people with type 1 diabetes have autoimmune gastritis.
  • Immune Conditions and Allergies - eosinophilic gastritis is a form of gastritis caused by an allergic reaction. The exact cause for this allergic reaction is not currently known. Viral and fungal infections can lead to gastritis in people with weakened or otherwise compromised immune systems.

Autoimmune gastritis, otherwise known as pernicious anaemia, is a chronic autoimmune disease that can lead to B-12 and iron deficiency as well as anemia. Crohn’s disease can also lead to gastritis.

  • Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption - excessive consumption of alcohol prompts the stomach to produce more acid, which in turn leads to the inflammation of the stomach lining and the symptoms of gastritis. Tobacco use has also been shown to increase the prevalence of gastrointestinal issues. In addition, smoking appears to exacerbate the effects of an H. pylori infection.  
  • Age - the lining of the stomach naturally thins with age, making gastritis more common in older people.
  • Radiation Exposure - having your abdomen exposed to radiation can lead to irritation of the stomach lining.
  • Protracted Vomiting - protracted bouts of vomiting can lead to excess stomach acid production, bile reflux and other gastrointestinal issues. People living with bulimia often develop gastritis due to frequent vomiting. Regular use of marijuana can also lead to protracted vomiting.
  • Diet - processed fats and high salt diets can elevate the chance of a person developing gastritis.

The fastest and easiest way to book a doctor’s appointment online is to use MyHealth1st .

Treatment for Gastritis

Knowing the cause of your gastritis is the key to successful treatment. There are a number of diagnostic tests that may be required for a proper diagnosis, including:

  • Endoscopy - a thin tube with a camera on the end that is passed down the throat into the stomach allowing a gastroenterologist to inspect your stomach. If the lining is inflamed and red, it may be a sign of gastritis. Ulcers or growths may also be detected this way.
  • Biopsy - A biopsy may be needed to tell if the inflammation or damage is caused by bacteria, disease, fungal infection. A small piece of the stomach lining is removed for inspection (biopsy).

Other tests may also be conducted, such as a barium meal and x-ray (a swallowed barium solution can help an x-ray show areas of potential concern) and ulcer breath tests.

Once the cause of the gastritis is pinpointed, a number of treatments may be recommended, including:

  • Diet - reducing processed fat and salt in the diet can help alleviate gastritis, as can avoiding identified triggers, including allergens, alcohol, caffeine and the like. The exact dietary changes will be recommended by a doctor or specialist. 
  • Medication - different medications may be prescribed for gastritis including Proton Pump Inhibitors (medications that block cells responsible for creating stomach acid), acid reducing medications (that reduce the levels of acid in the stomach) and antacids to neutralise the acid (often used for short term relief from pain).
  • Lifestyle Changes - limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking and managing stress, such as mindfulness training, meditation or therapy can aid in treating gastritis.

If you’re experiencing frequent bouts of indigestion, stomach cramps, nausea or a loss of appetite, it’s time to book an appointment to see a doctor to find out what is going on.

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