Chronic Gastritis Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Derived from ancient Greek and early Latin, the suffix “-itis” means inflammation. “Gastritis” refers to inflammation of the lining of the stomach wall.

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Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Is Chronic Gastritis?

Summary

Chronic gastritis is long-term inflammation of the lining of the stomach. The stomach’s lining functions to protect it from germs and caustic acid [1]. However, when this protective barrier becomes irritated or damaged, inflammation results and a vicious cycle of damage and more inflammation can occur.

The damage that occurs in gastritis can be erosive or non-erosive. Erosive gastritis causes the stomach lining to wear away and develop ulcers (deep erosions) in the stomach lining, whereas non-erosive gastritis does not cause ulcers but still results in inflammation [2].

Due to its long course, chronic gastritis most often presents in adults and older individuals; however, studies show that some causes of chronic gastritis start in early childhood.

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Chronic Gastritis Symptoms

Main symptoms

Unlike acute gastritis, which is accompanied by overt symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, symptoms of chronic gastritis are more subtle and may go unnoticed for long periods.

  • Upper abdominal discomfort or pain: This can feel like burning or gnawing in the stomach or the sensation of being full after eating a small amount.
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Belching
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Indigestion

Complications

Chronic inflammation of the stomach lining can result in systemic complications, especially if untreated.

  • Ulcers: Ulcers are erosions or sores of the stomach lining that can bleed and cause pain, especially when irritated by stomach contents or acid. These ulcers can make it difficult to eat or want to eat.
  • Anemia: Erosive gastritis can cause bleeding in the stomach and chronic blood loss can result in anemia. Anemia occurs when the body’s cells and tissues cannot get enough oxygen because there are not enough red blood cells with hemoglobin to transport oxygen. Without oxygen, the body begins to become fatigued and eventually break down.
  • Vitamin deficiency: Certain types of gastric enteritis do not produce enough of a protein called intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor helps the intestines absorb vitamin B12, a vitamin necessary to make red blood cells and nerve cells [2]. Prolonged vitamin B12 deficiency can also result in anemia due to decreased red blood cell count.
  • Cancerous or noncancerous growths: For reasons not completely known, chronic gastritis can increase chances of developing cancerous or noncancerous growths in the stomach lining.

Chronic Gastritis Causes

Many substances and pathogens can cause inflammation of the stomach lining. Chronic gastritis can be divided into three types based upon the underlying cause: infectious, autoimmune, or reactive. Infectious gastritis is the most common cause and most often acquired in early childhood. Environmental and socioeconomic factors such as income, cooking habits, and number of family members play an important role in all causes of chronic gastroenteritis, but these aspects play a particularly strong role in infectious chronic gastroenteritis.

Infectious

As mentioned, infection-causing chronic gastritis is the most common etiology. Although there are many different pathogens that can infect the lining of the stomach, only Helicobacter pylori bacteria (or H. pylori for short) causes chronic inflammation.

H. pylori is a hardy bacterium that can spread through any route imaginable – saliva, vomit, stool, food, and even water; researchers are not completely sure about the exact nature. Its ubiquitous nature and easy transmission make it easy to understand why infection most often occurs in early childhood. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of people in the United States have H. pylori infection, but not all individuals go on to develop chronic gastritis [3]. Prolonged or untreated H. pylori infection causes inflammation to the stomach lining that results in many of the complications discussed above, particularly ulcers.

Autoimmune

Autoimmune causes of chronic gastritis refer to chronic inflammation that occurs due to the body attacking itself.

  • Autoimmune disease: Many inflammatory diseases that result in the body attacking itself can result in chronic inflammation of the stomach and its lining. Systemic autoimmune conditions that affect multiple body parts such as inflammatory bowel disease and lupus can, although rarely, attack the cells of the stomach or intrinsic factor and result in chronic gastritis.
  • Allergy: Allergens can also cause your body to mount a natural immune response; however, allergic reactions in the stomach are not very common in chronic gastritis.

Reactive

Reactive gastritis refers mostly to environmental causes that are unnatural to the stomach.

  • Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a class of medications used to decrease prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are chemical messengers in the body that act like hormones and mediate multiple body functions including the production of substances that neutralize stomach acid. Without these neutralizers, the stomach cannot form a protective lining. Prolonged use of NSAIDs can decrease prostaglandin levels and put the stomach at increased risk for damage and inflammation.
  • Toxins: Drugs and alcohol can lead to acute gastritis due to their toxic nature; prolonged use can result in chronic gastritis.
  • Bile reflux: This is a situation in which bile flows upward out of the small intestine and into the stomach causing damage to the lining [1]. This often occurs as a result of surgery or procedures.

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Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Chronic Gastritis

Treatment

The main goals of treatment in chronic gastritis are to lower the amount of acid in the stomach and treat the underlying cause.

  • Acid reduction: Reducing the amount of acid in the stomach can promote healing of the stomach lining. There are many over the counter and prescription acid blockers such as antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors that your healthcare provider may advise you to try. These medications have different mechanisms of action, so you may have to try multiple in order to find the right fit.
  • Treating the underlying cause: Treating the underlying cause in chronic gastritis mostly refers to treating H. pylori infection. Since it is a bacterial infection, antibiotics are first-line. Many times your healthcare provider may also prescribe acid reducers in addition to antibiotics.

Prevention

Prevention of chronic gastritis begins by stopping H. pylori infection. Precautions are the same for prevention of catching other bacteria and include:

  • Washing hands with soap and water after using the bathroom and before eating
  • Eating food that has been properly washed and cooked
  • Drinking water from a safe, clean source

Prevention of chronic gastritis can also include limiting medications that cause stomach injury and stopping the use of alcohol and drugs. Researchers have not found any evidence that suggests diet and nutrition play a role in preventing gastritis [3].

When to Seek Further Consultation for Chronic Gastritis

Chronic bleeding and anemia can have serious consequences. Signs and symptoms of internal bleeding include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Bloody vomit
  • Black, tarry stools
  • Bright red, bloody stool
  • Weakness
  • Paleness

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, seek emergency medical care immediately.