Gastritis is a general medical term for any mild irritation, inflammation or infection of the stomach lining. Acute gastritis occurs as a sudden attack that can last from a few hours to a few days. Chronic gastritis, which is fairly common among the elderly, can occur over a long period and may produce similar symptoms or only mild discomfort, along with loss of appetite and nausea.
Table of Contents
Signs and Symptoms of Gastritis
- Under the ribs, abdominal ache or agony
- Nausea, occasionally with vomiting, that may last 24 to 48 hours
- Distress that may appear as fatigue or restlessness
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen abdomen
- Vomiting blood or hematemesis (infrequent, but requires immediate attention).
- Sweating or perspiration
- Irregular bowel movements
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
- Internal bleeding
- Abdominal bloating (tenderness and swelling [distention])
- Abdominal pain (indigestion or dyspepsia), often described as burning or gnawing
- Belching (burping)
- Dark stools
- Loss of appetite
In many cases, gastritis resolves with conservative treatment (e.g., lifestyle modifications). Patients should see a physician if the symptoms are new, or if the symptoms persist or worsen in spite of treatment.
Complications associated with gastritis can be serious. Patients should seek immediate medical attention if they suffer any of the following signs:
- Bloody or dark, foul-smelling stools
- Chest pain
- Chronic vomiting that prevents eating, drinking, or taking medications
- Faintness or pallor (paleness)
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained sweating
- Vomiting blood or greenish-yellow matter
Complications associated with gastritis include the following:
- Blood loss (may cause anemia [low red blood cell count])
- Fluid retention and edema (swelling)
- Scarring and narrowing of the stomach outlet (pylorus)
Patients who have chronic gastritis also are at increased risk for developing stomach cancer (gastric cancer).
What Causes Gastritis?
Gastritis has many causes. Infection with Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes most ulcers, is the most common cause of acute gastritis. The condition can also be triggered by any substances that irritate the stomach lining. In particular, long-term usage of anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals like ibuprofen, aspirin, and arthritis treatments falls under this category. Along with alcohol, tobacco smoke, and meals that are difficult for you to digest, many other prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as many others, can irritate the stomach lining.
Stress, persistent tension, and anxiety, which increase the production of stomach acid, can also lead to gastroenteritis, as can immune system issues.
Chronic gastritis can be caused by prolonged irritation of the stomach by excessive intake of alcohol, smoking tobacco, and medications; by bile and other acids that back up into the stomach; by pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disorder that can damage the stomach lining; and by degeneration of the stomach lining with age.
Treatment for Gastritis
Treatment for gastritis varies and depends on the underlying cause. Lifestyle modifications (e.g., dietary changes) can help reduce symptoms.
Medications that may be used include the following:
- Antacids to relieve minor symptoms
- Antibiotics to treat H. pylori infection
- Coating agents (e.g., Carafate, Cytotec)
- Histamine-2 blocks (e.g., Tagamet, Zantac)
- Proton pump inhibitors (e.g., Prevacid, Prilosec)
- Vitamin B12 injections
Gastritis usually responds well to treatment and most patients recover within 2–3 months. In rare cases, surgery (e.g., partial or subtotal gastrectomy) may be necessary to treat an underlying condition associated with gastritis, such as severe prolonged bleeding.
What If You Do Nothing?
Acute gastritis that is mild will typically go away on its own in two days. However, any instances of severe acute gastritis or chronic gastritis should receive medical attention.
Home Remedies for Gastritis
Most cases of mild gastritis respond well to the following self-care measures within 48 hours.
- Don’t eat. After the gastritis attack starts, you should fast for 24 hours while just consuming water and non-alcoholic drinks. The next day, begin to eat small meals consisting of bland foods like rice, toast, cooked vegetables, and applesauce, which shouldn’t irritate your stomach.
- Avoid all products that contain anti-inflammatory drugs. Pain relief medications or other products (such as some cold remedies) that contain aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, or other so-called NSAIDs can be harsh on your stomach.
- Take nonprescription antacids or acetaminophen for stomach pain. Follow your doctor’s orders or the label directions.
- As long as you experience symptoms, give up smoking and refrain from drinking alcohol and caffeine.
- Know your medications. If you must take a medication that ends up irritating your stomach, ask your physician about taking an enteric form. Enteric pills have a special coating that allows them to pass undissolved directly from your stomach to your small intestine. In some instances this may help prevent gastritis symptoms.
- Keep a food diary. Certain spicy, fatty, or fried foods may trigger your gastritis. Cut back or eliminate them from your diet.
- Eat frequent, small meals. This may help reduce any excessive acid buildup in the stomach.
- Quit smoking; reduce or eliminate alcohol intake. These are two common causes of both acute and chronic gastritis.
- Try to minimize stress. If stress is a cause of your gastritis, try to figure out what is causing the stress in your life and what changes you can make to reduce it.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
Most cases of gastritis are mild and require no attention. However, contact your physician if abdominal pains accompanied by fever or nausea persist and do not respond to self-care measures within 24 hours, or if there is any blood in your vomit.
Contact your physician immediately if stomach pain becomes severe.
What Your Doctor Will Do
Your physician may order tests to confirm the gastritis diagnosis. Prescription antacids may be recommended. If smoking or alcohol consumption is the cause, you will be urged to quit. Your doctor may also check for Helicobacter pylori infection and, if it is present, prescribe a course of antibiotics. For persistent cases, an endoscopy may be performed for confirmation.