Your Guide to Living with Gastritis

What is Gastritis?

Gastritis. Tom Kelley Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Gastritis is an inflammation of the stomach lining. It may occur gradually and persist for a prolonged time. Although it doesn't cause heartburn, some of the symptoms are similar to those produced by heartburn, and it's treated in a similar way to GERD, by taking medication to reduce stomach acid.

Causes of Gastritis

Glass of Whiskey
Glass of Whiskey. Neilson Barnard / Staff / Getty Images

There are several causes of gastritis. The most common are:

  • Taking aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Infection of the stomach with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria
  • Erosion of the protective layer of the stomach lining

There are also less common causes of gastritis. These include:

  • Eating or drinking caustic or corrosive substances (such as poisons)
  • Backflow of bile into the stomach (bile reflux)
  • Autoimmune disorders (such as pernicious anemia)
  • Excess gastric acid secretion (which can sometimes occur from stress) 
  • Viral infection, especially in people with a weak immune system

Gastritis can occur suddenly (acute gastritis) or gradually (chronic gastritis).

Symptoms of Gastritis

The most common symptoms of gastritis are:

  • Upper abdominal pain, which may worsen with eating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting, which may include vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee grounds
  • Dark stools

Diagnosing Gastritis

Blood Test
Blood Test. David Silverman / Staff / Getty Images

There are several tests that may be used to diagnose gastritis. These are the three main ones:

Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy

The doctor eases an endoscope, a thin tube containing a tiny camera, through your mouth (or occasionally nose) and down into your stomach to look at 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.

Blood test

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. In gastritis, anemia can be caused by bleeding from the stomach.

Stool test

This test checks for the presence of blood in your stool, a sign of bleeding.

Treatment of Gastritis

Prescription Drugs
Prescription Drugs. Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images

Treatment usually involves taking drugs to reduce stomach acid, which can help relieve symptoms and promote healing (stomach acid irritates the inflamed tissues of the stomach). Antacids or other medications, such as Tagamet (to decrease or neutralize gastric acid in the stomach) or proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec, will usually eliminate the symptoms and promote healing. Gastritis caused by pernicious anemia is treated with vitamin B12.

You may also be encouraged to avoid certain foods, beverages or medicines. Following a diet recommended for peptic ulcer sufferers may help. 

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

Complications of Gastritis

If gastritis isn't treated, it may lead to stomach ulcers and stomach bleeding. Some forms of chronic gastritis that may increase your risk of stomach cancer. Other complications include:

Living with Gastritis

Several lifestyle modifications can help you manage the symptoms of gastritis:

Eat 6 small meals instead of 3 big meals.

This keeps your stomach from getting too full, and reduce gastric pressure.

Avoid foods that can increase stomach acid production.

There are several foods and beverages that can trigger your heartburn, and increase acid production. You may want to avoid these and consume foods that can decrease heartburn and acid production.

Avoid alcohol.

Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid.

Use an antacid.

Antacids, such as Tagamet (to decrease or neutralize gastric acid in the stomach), will usually eliminate the symptoms and promote healing.

Sleep with your head and shoulders elevated.

With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce this pressure.

Don't smoke.

Smoking stimulates the production of stomach acid.


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

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