What Is Gastritis?
Gastritis is a general medical term for any mild irritation, inflammation or infection of the stomach lining. Acute gastritis occurs as a sudden attack that can last from a few hours to a few days. Chronic gastritis, which is fairly common among the elderly, can occur over a long period and may produce similar symptoms or only mild discomfort, along with loss of appetite and nausea.
Symptoms of Gastritis
- Abdominal discomfort or pain under the rib cage
- Nausea, occasionally with vomiting, that may last 24 to 48 hours
- Distress that may appear as fatigue or restlessness
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen abdomen
- Vomiting blood or hematemesis (infrequent, but requires immediate attention).
- Sweating or perspiration
- Irregular bowel movements
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
- Internal bleeding
What Causes Gastritis?
Gastritis has many causes. Infection with Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes most ulcers, is the most common cause of acute gastritis. The condition can also be triggered by any substances that irritate the stomach lining. These include anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and arthritis medications, particularly when these drugs are used over the long term. Many other prescription and over-the-counter medications may also irritate the stomach lining, as can tobacco smoke, alcohol, and foods that you have trouble digesting.
Chronic gastritis can be caused by prolonged irritation of the stomach by excessive intake of alcohol, smoking tobacco, and medications; by bile and other acids that back up into the stomach; by pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disorder that can damage the stomach lining; and by degeneration of the stomach lining with age.
What If You Do Nothing?
Mild cases of acute gastritis are often self-limiting and will clear up within two days. However, any instances of severe acute gastritis or chronic gastritis should receive medical attention.
Home Remedies for Gastritis
Most cases of mild gastritis respond well to the following self-care measures within 48 hours.
- Don’t eat. Fast for 24 hours after the gastritis attack begins; you should drink water and nonalcoholic beverages. The next day, begin to eat small meals consisting of bland foods like rice, toast, cooked vegetables, and applesauce, which shouldn’t irritate your stomach.
- Avoid all products that contain anti-inflammatory drugs. Pain relief medications or other products (such as some cold remedies) that contain aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, or other so-called NSAIDs can be harsh on your stomach.
- Take nonprescription antacids or acetaminophen for stomach pain. Follow your doctor’s orders or the label directions.
- Stop smoking and abstain from alcohol and caffeine for as long as you have symptoms.
- Know your medications. If you must take a medication that ends up irritating your stomach, ask your physician about taking an enteric form. Enteric pills have a special coating that allows them to pass undissolved directly from your stomach to your small intestine. In some instances this may help prevent gastritis symptoms.
- Keep a food diary. Certain spicy, fatty, or fried foods may trigger your gastritis. Cut back or eliminate them from your diet.
- Eat frequent, small meals. This may help reduce any excessive acid buildup in the stomach.
- Quit smoking; reduce or eliminate alcohol intake. These are two common causes of both acute and chronic gastritis.
- Try to minimize stress. If stress is a cause of your gastritis, try to figure out what is causing the stress in your life and what changes you can make to reduce it.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
Most cases of gastritis are mild and require no attention. However, contact your physician if abdominal pains accompanied by fever or nausea persist and do not respond to self-care measures within 24 hours, or if there is any blood in your vomit.
Contact your physician immediately if stomach pain becomes severe.
What Your Doctor Will Do
Your physician may order tests to confirm the gastritis diagnosis. Prescription antacids may be recommended. If smoking or alcohol consumption is the cause, you will be urged to quit. Your doctor may also check for Helicobacter pylori infection and, if it is present, prescribe a course of antibiotics. For persistent cases, an endoscopy may be performed for confirmation.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media