Nearly everyone experiences a bout of stomach pain or indigestion from time to time. In many cases, this irritation resolves quickly on its own without medical intervention. Sometimes, however, the pain can be due to a health condition called gastritis. Gastritis is a broad term, and the condition can be caused by many different factors. Symptoms can cause pain and discomfort and have a profound effect on quality of life, especially when it comes to eating and enjoying food. I’m often contacted by people with gastritis, trying to find a natural solution to help resolve their symptoms. Many people are stuck on long-term medication, strong PPI drugs that switch off the production of acid, but such medications come with side effects.
What is gastritis?
Gastritis means inflammation of the stomach lining – gastr (stomach) itis (inflammation) – due to an infection, another health condition, or lifestyle factors such as drinking alcohol, foods that irritate the lining of the stomach, or overusing certain kinds of medications. It’s not the same as gastroenteritis, which is inflammation of the lining of the bowel.
Gastritis may occur suddenly (acute gastritis) or appear slowly over time (chronic gastritis). Generally, acute gastritis lasts anywhere from 2-10 days and can be greatly improved with symptomatic treatment. People usually recover from acute gastritis without complications or need for further medical intervention. Without treatment, chronic gastritis can last for weeks or even years. Chronic gastritis occurs over a long period of time, so it can gradually wear away at a person’s stomach lining. It’s important to seek evaluation and treatment for chronic gastritis because it can lead to complications such as ulcers and bleeding, and in some cases, an increased risk of stomach cancer. Do book in to see your GP if you have signs and symptoms of gastritis for a week or longer.
The signs and symptoms of gastritis include:
- Gnawing or burning ache or pain (indigestion) in your upper abdomen that may become either worse or better with eating
- A feeling of fullness in your upper abdomen after eating
- Hiccups or burping
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
People with severe gastritis may experience:
- Vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee grounds
- Black, tarry stools
- Anaemia, a condition in which a person lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues
If indigestion lasts longer than three weeks and a change in lifestyle hasn’t helped and/or you find blood in your vomit or poo, you have difficulty swallowing or you are experiencing weight loss, it’s time to seek the help of your GP. Don’t try and self-medicate with over-the-counter antacids. Don’t assume that your symptoms are caused by gastritis – the symptoms can be caused by several other conditions.
One of the most common causes of gastritis is a bacterial infection called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). H. pylori is also one of the most common causes of peptic ulcers. Without treatment, the infection can lead to ulcers, or in rare cases, stomach cancer.
Factors that increase your risk of gastritis include:
- Bacterial infection – although infection with H.pylori is among the most common worldwide human infections, only some people with the infection develop gastritis or other upper gastrointestinal disorders. Doctors believe vulnerability to the bacterium could be inherited or could be caused by lifestyle choices, such as smoking and diet.
- Regular use of pain relievers and antibiotics – pain relievers commonly referred to as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can cause both acute gastritis and chronic gastritis. Using these pain relievers regularly or taking too much of these drugs may reduce a key substance that helps preserve the protective lining of your stomach.
- Older age – older adults have an increased risk of gastritis because the stomach lining tends to thin with age and because older adults are more likely to have H. pylori infection or autoimmune disorders than younger people are.
- Excessive alcohol use – alcohol can irritate and erode your stomach lining, which makes your stomach more vulnerable to digestive juices. Excessive alcohol use is more likely to cause acute gastritis.
- Stress – severe stress due to major surgery, injury, burns or severe infections can cause acute gastritis.
- Cancer treatment – chemotherapy drugs or radiation treatment can increase your risk of gastritis.
- Your own body attacking cells in your stomach – called autoimmune gastritis, this type of gastritis occurs when your body attacks the cells that make up your stomach lining. This reaction can wear away at your stomach’s protective barrier. Autoimmune gastritis is more common in people with other autoimmune disorders, including Hashimoto’s disease and Type 1 diabetes. Autoimmune gastritis can also be associated with vitamin B-12 deficiency.
- Other diseases and conditions – gastritis may be associated with other medical conditions, including Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, sarcoidosis, and parasitic infections.
- Trigger foods and drinks – acidic foods, such as tomatoes and some fruits, fatty foods, fried foods, pickled foods, carbonated drinks, coffee, fruit juices.
- Hereditory – certain types of gastritis can run in families.
Your symptoms, medical history, and a medical exam may be enough to diagnose gastritis. Other times, your doctor may want to perform one of the following tests to determine what’s causing your gastritis:
- H. pylori test – H. pylori can be detected in a blood test, stool test, or breath test, with the breath and stool tests most commonly used. They determine the presence of the H. pylori bacteria in the body, which can then be treated.
- Endoscopy – during an endoscopy, your doctor will look for inflammation in your upper digestive tract by passing a flexible tube with a lens down your throat and into your stomach. If your provider sees anything suspicious, such as ulcerations or other abnormal findings, they will take a tissue sample (biopsy) to send to a lab for diagnosis.
- X-ray – occasionally, your doctor may find it useful to get an x-ray of your upper digestive tract. You may be asked to swallow barium, which coats your digestive tract, to make things like ulcers and strictures more visible.
Treatment will be discussed with your GP and he/she will decide the best course of treatment as gastritis depends on the specific cause. Acute gastritis caused by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or alcohol may be relieved by stopping use of those substances.
Medications used to treat gastritis include:
- Antibiotic medications to kill H. pylori – for H. pylori in your digestive tract, your doctor may prescribe triple therapy – a combination of antibiotics to kill the bacterium and a PPI to reduce acid. Be sure to take the full antibiotic prescription, usually for 7 to 14 days, along with medication to block acid production. Once treated, your doctor will retest you for H. pylori to be sure it has been destroyed.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You may find some relief from signs and symptoms if you:
- Avoid alcohol – alcohol can irritate the mucous lining of your stomach.
- Consider switching pain relievers
- Change your diet – eat smaller, more frequent meals to prevent indigestion and avoid inflammatory foods that could irritate your stomach lining, such as fried, fatty, spicy, or acidic foods, or gluten. You may also want to eat more foods like nuts, beans, eggs, cabbage, and asparagus, all of which contain glutamine, an amino acid that can help repair the stomach lining.
- Decreasing stress – you can try this through exercise, yoga, meditation, or mindfulness techniques.
How to prevent gastritis
An overall healthy lifestyle is one way to prevent irritation and inflammation in your stomach lining. To prevent gastritis, focus on:
- Moderate alcohol consumption
- Avoiding smoking, since it can damage a person’s stomach lining
- Avoiding overly fatty or fried foods
- Taking probiotic supplements, such as my Live Bacteria capsules or eating foods with good bacteria, which can help improve digestion and encourage regular bowel movements
- Getting ample sleep and routine exercise, which can help reduce stress
My supplement protocol for gastritis
Try taking one of our Live Bacteria probiotic capsules before breakfast and one before bed, with a little water, a Digestive Enzymes tablet before lunch and before dinner and an Omega 3 fish oil capsule daily with a meal.
Probiotic supplementation played a key role in Alison’s recovery from gastritis:
If you have any questions about a digestive and gut health issue, please get in touch.