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Gastritis (The Basics)

by Andrea Greengard

What is gastritis?

“Gastritis” means inflammation of the stomach lining. Some people have gastritis that comes on suddenly and lasts only for a short time. Doctors call this “acute” gastritis. Other people have gastritis that lasts for months or years. Doctors call this “chronic” gastritis.

What causes gastritis?

Different things can cause gastritis, including:

  • An infection in the stomach from bacteria called “H. pylori”
  • Medicines called “nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs” (NSAIDs) – These include aspirin, ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (brand names: Aleve, Naprosyn).
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Conditions in which the body’s infection-fighting system attacks the stomach lining
  • Having a serious or life-threatening illness

What are the symptoms of gastritis?

People with gastritis have no symptoms. When people do have symptoms, they are due to other conditions that can happen with gastritis, like ulcers. Symptoms from ulcers include:

  • Pain in the upper belly
  • Feeling bloated, or feeling full after eating a small amount of food
  • Decreased appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Vomiting blood, or having black-colored bowel movements
  • Feeling more tired than usual – This happens if people with gastritis get a condition called “anemia.”

Should I call my doctor or nurse?

Call your doctor or nurse if:

  • You have belly pain that gets worse or doesn’t go away
  • You vomit blood or have black bowel movements
  • You are losing weight (without trying to)

Will I need tests?

Probably. Your doctor or nurse will ask about your symptoms and do an exam. They might also do:

  • An upper endoscopy – During this procedure, the doctor puts a thin tube with a camera on the end into your mouth and down into your stomach . they will look at the inside of your stomach. During the procedure, they might also do a test called a biopsy. For a biopsy, the doctor takes a small sample of the stomach lining. Then another doctor looks at the sample under a microscope.
  • Tests to check for H. pylori infection. These can include:
    • Blood tests
    • Breath tests – These tests measure substances in your breath after you drink a special liquid.
    • Tests on a small sample of your bowel movement
  • Blood tests to check for anemia

How is gastritis treated?

Treatment depends on what’s causing your gastritis.

For example, if NSAIDs are causing your gastritis, your doctor will recommend that you not take those medicines. If alcohol is causing your gastritis, they will recommend that you stop drinking alcohol.

Doctors can use medicines to treat gastritis caused by an H. pylori infection. Most people take 3 or more medicines for 2 weeks. The treatment includes antibiotics plus medicine that helps the stomach make less acid.

Doctors can use medicines that reduce or block stomach acid to treat other causes of gastritis. The main types of medicines that reduce or block stomach acid are:

  • Antacids
  • Surface agents
  • Histamine blockers
  • Proton pump inhibitors

If your doctor recommends acid-reducing treatment, they will tell you which medicine to use.

What happens after treatment?

Sometimes, people who are treated for an H. pylori infection need follow-up tests to make sure the infection is gone. Follow-up tests include breath tests, lab tests on a sample of bowel movement, or endoscopy.

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