By Sally Robertson, BSc
Gastritis refers to a group of conditions that lead to inflammation of the stomach lining, which can be caused by a number of factors.
The stomach lining is made up of cells that secrete enzymes and acid as part of the digestive process. However, the acid produced can also break down the stomach lining, so other cells in the lining produce mucus to form a layer of protective slime that prevents this from happening. Various different factors can cause damage to and weaken parts of this protective mucus barrier. These unprotected areas of the stomach lining are then exposed to the stomach acid which can lead to inflammation, pain and bleeding.
In some cases, the condition can give rise to ulcers and even increase the risk of stomach cancer, but for most individuals, gastritis is not a severe condition and passes when treated.
When gastritis develop slowly and cause no pain or only a dull pain, the condition is referred to as chronic gastritis. In other cases, the symptom onset is severe and sudden and the condition is referred to as acute gastritis. If symptoms do develop they may include a burning or aching sensation in the upper abdomen, nausea, vomiting, abdominal bloating, hiccups, loss of appetite, and black, tarry stools.
The most common cause of the inflammation seen in gastritis is infection with the H.pylori bacteria. Other common causes include the use of certain medications, excess alcohol intake and injury. People are at a greater risk of this condition if their dietary and lifestyle habits increase the acidic content of their stomach. People with a frequent and high intake of fats, oils, citrus fruit and coffee are at an increased risk of developing the condition. A high intake of alcohol can also increase the risk of chronic gastritis. The factors that can increase the risk of gastritis are described in more detail below.
Although infection with H. pylori is very common, in some infected people the bacteria causes gastritis to develop. Experts believe that vulnerability to the bacterium may be hereditary or caused by other lifestyle factors such as smoking or a high level of stress.
Pain relief medications
The use of certain pain relievers including ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen can be causative factors in both the acute and chronic forms of gastritis. Frequent or excessive use of these drugs can weaken the protective mucosal lining of the stomach and this is less likely to occur if pain relievers are only used occasionally.
In rare cases, gastritis is cause by an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune cells to attack the stomach lining. Gradually, the immune system wears the stomach’s protective barrier down. Autoimmune gastritis is more common in people who already have another autoimmune condition such as type 1 diabetes or Hashimoto’s thyroid disease.
Older individuals are at an increased risk of gastritis as the stomach lining tens to become thinner as people age. Older people are also more likely to be infected with H. pylori or to have an autoimmune disorder than younger individuals are.
Stress due to events such as major surgery, burns, injury or severe infection can lead to acute gastritis. The underlying mechanism of this is not yet clear, but experts believe it may be linked to a decreased blood flow in the stomach.
Excessive alcohol intake
Alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach, making it vulnerable to attack by digestive juices.
Other disease and conditions
Gastritis is also associated with health conditions such as Chron’s disease and HIV/AIDS.
Diagnosis and treatment
Gastritis is diagnosed based on endoscopic examination, blood tests and sometimes a biopsy. A fecal occult blood test may also be performed to check for blood in the stool, which is a symptom of gastritis.
Gastritis can usually be treated using antacids and other drugs to reduce the amount of stomach acid and therefore inflammation. If the condition is caused by H.pylori infection, a course of antibiotics may be prescribed. Patients are also advised to avoid hot or spicy foods and avoid any excess alcohol intake.
Last Updated: Dec 16, 2014