Gastritis refers to a group of conditions that lead to inflammation of the stomach lining, which can be caused by a number of factors.
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The stomach lining is made up of cells that secrete enzymes and acid as part of the digestive process. However, the acid produced by the stomach can also break down the stomach lining. In an effort to protect the stomach from this, 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 and subsequently 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/or bleeding.
In some cases, the condition can give rise to ulcers and even increase the risk of stomach cancer; however, for most individuals, gastritis is not a severe condition and passes when treated.
When gastritis develops slowly and does not cause significant pain, the condition is referred to as chronic gastritis. In other cases where the symptom onset is severe and sudden, the condition is referred to as acute gastritis. Some of the symptoms associated with both acute and chronic gastritis 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 an infection by the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria. Other common causes include the use of certain medications, excess alcohol intake, and injury.
People are at a greater risk of gastritis if their dietary and lifestyle habits increase the acidic content of their stomach. More specifically, diets high in fats, oils, citrus fruit, and coffee increase an individual's risk of developing gastritis.
Although infection with H. pylori is very common, in some infected people, this bacteria can cause 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.
In rare cases, gastritis is caused 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 tends to become thinner as people age. Older people are also more likely to be infected with H. pylori or to have an autoimmune disorder as compared to younger individuals.
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; however, experts believe that it may be linked to 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 certain health conditions such as Crohn's disease, as well as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
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Diagnosis and treatment
Gastritis is diagnosed based on the results obtained from an 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 one of the symptoms of gastritis.
Gastritis can usually be treated using antacids and other drugs to reduce the amount of stomach acid, which will subsequently reduce the inflammation within this organ. If the case of gastritis 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.