The average patient may not know exactly what gastritis is. Although the word “gas” is part of the condition’s name, it has nothing to do with flatulence. Patients also confuse gastritis with acid reflux or GERD, a more severe form of acid reflux. However, while gastritis and acid reflux both involve inflammation, they involve inflammation of different areas of the digestive tract. While gastritis can affect the quality of life in patients, if it goes untreated and undiagnosed, it can cause future medical problems, and untreated gastritis can also be a risk factor for stomach cancer. Read on to learn some fast facts about gastritis and if you should consult your gastroenterologist.
#1: Gastritis Is Inflammation of the Stomach
If you’re wondering what gastritis is, it is an inflammation of the stomach lining. It gets confused with acid reflux because acid reflux is similar, but it is instead the inflammation of the esophagus. The two conditions also share some common symptoms. There are two distinct types of gastritis: acute and chronic. Acute cases correlate more with something in the environment (e.g., overindulging in alcohol, eating spicy food), while Heliobacter pylori, a bacterial infection, often causes chronic cases. If gastritis is left untreated, it can cause ulcers and bleeding in the stomach over time, particularly with chronic gastritis.
What Are the Symptoms of Gastritis?
Some patients experience no symptoms at all with gastritis, while others can experience symptoms that impact their quality of life, such as abdominal pain. Common symptoms include:
- Feeling full in the upper abdomen after eating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain or ache in the abdomen that lessens with eating
If you have a severe type of chronic gastritis known as erosive gastritis, which is a precursor to stomach cancer, your symptoms may include black, tarry stools and blood in vomit. If you experience either of these gastritis symptoms, you should contact your physician immediately.
#2: You May Need Several Types of Tests for a Gastritis Diagnosis
The first battery of diagnostic testing to check for gastritis usually involves blood tests, stool tests, and sometimes a breath test. With the breath test, you swallow a radioactive substance and then breathe into a bag. The contents of the bag are then checked for the presence of H. pylori, a bacteria that causes gastritis.
If the initial round of tests points to gastritis or another gastrointestinal disturbance, your physician may want to perform more tests, such as an upper endoscopy or X-rays. If you have X-rays performed, you will swallow barium prior to the test to ensure affected areas of your GI tract “light up” on the X-ray so that the doctor can see the affected areas. More commonly, you would have an upper endoscopy. This is an outpatient procedure, where you are put under light anesthesia, and your physician inserts a long, thin tube in through your throat. This tube has a camera attached to the end so that your doctor can see the contents of your stomach and esophagus. During this test, your physician may take a small tissue sample (biopsy) to determine what's causing you distress.
What Causes Gastritis?
The two primary causes of gastritis are overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or a bacterial infection (H. pylori). Both of these weaken the stomach lining considerably, which is a marker of gastritis. Diseases such as Crohn's disease and sarcoidosis can also cause gastritis, because of the inflammation associated with these conditions.
#3: There Are Many Risk Factors for Gastritis, But You Can Control Many of Them
Each patient is going to have a different reason as to why they have gastritis. Some lifestyle choices, however, put you at greater risk for developing gastritis, such as:
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- Tobacco use (especially smoking)
- Overuse of NSAIDs
- High-stress levels
There are also risk factors for gastritis that are out of your control, such as your body’s inflammatory response or aging; however, these are both risk factors for gastritis. It can also be difficult to control whether you contract a bacterial infection or not, but this is the number one cause of gastritis. The best way to protect against H. pylori is to wash your hands often. H. pylori can be transmitted from person to person or through contaminated food or water.
Can Gastritis Be Cured? What Do I Do for Treatment?
The symptoms of gastritis can be arrested with the proper treatment. However, your healthcare provider must find the root cause of gastritis to be able to treat it properly. For instance, if H. pylori caused your gastritis, you need antibiotics to cure the infection. Other common treatments for gastritis include:
- Proton pump inhibitors, which block the production of acid
- Histamine (H2) blockers, which also block acid production
- Antacids, which reduce stomach acid
Your doctor may also recommend that you drink less or avoid alcohol altogether, quit smoking, avoid spicy and irritating foods, switch from NSAIDs to analgesics like Tylenol, and have a diet and exercise regime.
#4: You Can Help Gastritis Symptoms and Flare-ups with Diet
Your physician may also advise you to make some lifestyle changes and changes to your diet to help prevent gastritis or make symptoms less severe during a flare-up. Some of the foods you should be avoiding on a gastritis diet include:
- Acidic fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes
- Corn and corn products
- Coffee and other caffeinated beverages
- Dairy products
- Fried eggs
- Fatty foods
- Soda and carbonated beverages
- Smoked and processed meats
The list of foods on the “approved list” for the gastritis diet is also long. You can partake in foods such as:
- Shellfish and seafood (not fried)
- Eggs and egg products (not fried)
- Beans and legumes
- Low-acid vegetables, such as cucumber or carrots
- Berries, such as strawberries and blueberries
- Foods robust in probiotics, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, or kimchi
- Whole grains
- Lean meats and poultry
If you’re able to change some diet and exercise habits, you can help control your gastritis, and in many cases, can prevent cases of acute gastritis.
Complications from Gastritis
If gastritis is not diagnosed or treated, it can cause more severe side effects later on. Gastritis can lead to ulcers or bleeding of the stomach, which is a precursor and risk factor for stomach cancer. If you experience any type of gastrointestinal disturbance, it is always best to have your symptoms evaluated by a healthcare provider.
GI Associates is the largest gastroenterology group in Mississippi
If you need more information about gastritis and its symptoms or need to be seen by a physician, contact us today. We provide complete and comprehensive care for any and all gastrointestinal disorders and conditions.