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What is gastritis?

digestive system diagramGastritis is a broad term for inflammation or irritation of the lining of the stomach. Gastritis can occur suddenly ( acute gastritis) or gradually ( chronic gastritis). The term ‘acute’ means that the attacks are short, not necessarily that the symptoms are severe. The term ‘chronic’ means the infection has developed slowly and there may be few symptoms.

What causes gastritis?

Gastritis may be caused by a viral infection, drinking too much alcohol, an unhealthy diet, smoking or taking drugs, such as aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs, over a long period of time.

However, the main cause of gastritis is from the presence of a bacterium called Helicobacter Pylori (H.pylori), which is the same bug that causes peptic ulcers (for more information on H.pylori and peptic ulcers click here).

How likely am I to have gastritis?

Gastritis occurs most often among the elderly, but it can affect anyone at any age.

What symptoms are linked with gastritis?

A variety of mild to severe stomach symptoms may indicate gastritis. The symptoms you experience will depend on the type of gastritis you have, for example people with chronic gastritis may have no severe symptoms but experience a slight loss of appetite or nausea. The most common symptoms of gastritis are: –

  • Upper abdominal discomfort or pain.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Bad taste in the mouth.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Indigestion.

How is gastritis diagnosed?

Your doctor may diagnose gastritis from your symptoms. However, if the doctor is unsure about what the problem is, a visual examination of the stomach through a endoscope may be required. A endoscope is a thin flexible telescope with a light in the end, that is passed into the stomach via the mouth. Your doctor may also require a blood test, to see if the presence of H.pylori is causing your symptoms.

How is gastritis treated?

The type of treatment you require will depend on the cause of the inflammation. Self-care is often the best treatment for mild gastritis. Antacid drugs such as, milk of magnesia, which can be bought from your local pharmacy, may help with the symptoms of gastritis, ask your pharmacist for advice.

If your gastritis is caused by H.pylori you may be prescribed antibiotics to eliminate the bug.

On the first day you experience symptoms of gastritis, avoid solid foods and drink plenty of water, milk and other bland liquids to prevent dehydration.

What can I do to prevent further attacks?

If you have gastritis you should maintain a healthy diet, stop smoking and limit alcohol and caffeine. You should also avoid foods that you find hard to digest, such as spicy foods. If possible you should also avoid any drugs that irritate your stomach.

Supplements of zinc and vitamin A may help to heal the stomach lining, however, you should speak to your doctor before taking any supplements.

See your doctor if:

  • If you are vomiting blood or have black stools.
  • Severe stomach pain, as this could be sign of a peptic ulcer.