Let's say you have been experiencing a little bit of bloating and are belching more than usual. Most people might not think this is a cause for immediate concern. Vomiting blood, though, is likely to have you on the phone to your doctor in a hurry. This is the right response, too, as you should seek medical attention anytime you begin seeing blood in your vomit.
Many different gastrointestinal conditions can share common symptoms. Gastritis is no exception, with bloating, belching, abdominal pain, and a gnawing or grinding feeling in your stomach all being common complaints. More severe symptoms include black tarry feces, blood in your stool, and possibly even vomiting blood.
What Do I Need to Know About Gastritis?
The first thing you need to know about gastritis is how common it is. As many as 30% of Americans suffer from it, with rates being even higher in developing countries. It is also important that you know you could be suffering from chronic gastritis, possibly for years, without ever being diagnosed.
Gastritis is a term for damage done to the lining of your stomach and small intestine. This damage can occur directly to the mucosal lining of the stomach itself, or when too much stomach acid wears it away. Irritants can cause your stomach to produce too much acid, especially between meals when no food is present to absorb gastric juices. Over time this excess acid can wear holes in the lining of the stomach or small intestine, leading to stomach ulcers, bleeding, and in some severe cases, contribute to certain kinds of cancer.
The most common cause of gastritis is a widely prevalent bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori. H. pylori is found throughout the world, and is identified as the cause of, or contributing to, the vast majority of gastritis cases severe enough to need medical treatment. Infections involve this bacteria burying into the mucosal lining of the stomach and causing the body to produce stomach acid even when you are not eating.
Another leading cause of gastritis in the United States is overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs include common, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. Perhaps because these drugs are cheap and widely available, many people underestimate the possible harm done by not heeding safety warnings and dosing guidelines. Overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs), even for a few weeks, can weaken the mucosal layer that lines the stomach. This in turn, can allow acid from your stomach to reach the deeper layers of tissue and cause bleeding and irritation. Misuse of NSAIDs is one of the leading causes of acute gastritis.
Lifestyle factors such as alcoholism, chronic stress, and even smoking can also be potential causes of gastritis. These and other lifestyle factors contribute to excess acid production or weaken the body’s ability to heal itself, which can help lead to the formation of peptic ulcers.
How Do You Know if You Have Gastritis?
Testing for gastritis is easier and more convenient than for some other gastrointestinal conditions. If your doctor suspects you may have gastritis, he or she will likely order one of several commonly available tests. Blood tests, stool samples, and even breath tests can indicate the presence of H. pylori bacteria. Your doctor will also ask about a range of lifestyle and health factors to see what else might be causing your symptoms.
Ultimately, tests can only confirm some potential causes of your gastritis, and they do little to help your doctor know how serious your condition is. Imaging such as X-rays can be helpful in helping to confirm the presence and severity of your gastritis, but these techniques still don't paint the full picture.
To confirm a gastritis diagnosis, doctors often order an upper endoscopy. This procedure involves passing a tiny, flexible tube into your mouth, down your esophagus, and into your stomach. This tube, known as an endoscope, has a tiny camera at the end that allows your doctor or gastroenterologist to see what is going on in your stomach.
Is There a Diet for Gastritis?
Many gastrointestinal conditions that can leave you facing the annoyance and inconvenience of a restricted diet. Thankfully, gastritis is typically not one of these conditions. There are some instances, such as when your gastritis is related to Crohn's disease, that you may have to pay greater attention to your diet, but these are the minority of cases.
Increasing the amount of healthy foods in your diet can be beneficial in helping to eliminate unwanted symptoms of gastritis. There are also several different foods that may help to slow the growth of H. pylori bacteria and provide relief to gastritis symptoms. These include the following:
- Carrot juice
- Coconut water
- Cranberry juice
- Fresh fruits and berries
- Green leafy vegetables
- Legumes (peas, beans, and lentils)
- Soy foods
- Teas (white and green specifically)
- Wheat bran
What is the Treatment for Gastritis?
Many people end up managing the symptoms of gastritis rather than treating the underlying cause of their problems. This often happens when your gastritis has not been properly diagnosed, or when it is not easy to make changes in your lifestyle to allow your body to heal.
Treating gastritis stemming from a H. pylori infection involves attempting to kill the bacteria itself through the use of antibiotics. Amoxicillin (Augmentin, Amoxil), metronidazole (Flagyl), and clarithromycin (Biaxin) are all commonly used to treat H. pylori infection. Doctors currently recommend taking the full course of your antibiotic treatment to ensure you have killed off the infection completely. This may mean taking the drugs for several days after your symptoms have begun to subside.
For gastritis caused by lifestyle factors such as stress, smoking, or alcoholism, the cure is easier said than done. People who are experiencing indigestion related to stressful work or life circumstances, and those people whose smoking or drinking habits are the root cause of their gastritis, will usually start by taking antacids to manage symptoms. If you really want to be free of symptoms and allow your body to heal over time, you will need to take steps to change your habits or remove yourself from stressful situations.
Commonly available antacids are usually the first line of defense against the pain, bloating, and discomfort of gastritis. In cases where antacids are not providing relief, a class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, can sometimes be the answer. These drugs work by interfering with the chemical pathways in your stomach that are responsible for producing acid. Since something, either stress, smoking, or the presence of H. pylori bacteria, has caused your stomach to produce too much acid, particularly when food is not present, blocking your body's overactive responses can help to reduce the level of acid in your stomach.
If your chronic gastritis has been caused by long-term reliance on NSAIDs for pain management, you will need to look into new ways to handle your pain. This could mean talking to doctors and other wellness providers to see if chiropractic care, physical therapy, or other treatment can help alleviate your pain.
Getting Started Treating Your Gastritis
Simply loading your diet with certain foods or trying home treatments is not likely to have a profound effect on your gastritis. This is particularly true if your condition is caused by a bacterial infection or Crohn's disease. You can take steps to reduce your stress levels, quit smoking, or lower your alcohol consumption if any of these are contributing to your gastritis, but ultimately if you are experiencing severe symptoms, you will likely need medical treatment.
Ultimately, determining the root cause of your gastritis is the first step to healing. Rather than merely treating the symptoms of gastritis through PPIs or other antacids, the best thing to do is find the underlying cause of your gastritis and treat it effectively. At Cary Gastroenterology Associates, we can help you go beyond merely treating the symptoms of your gastritis. No one should have to live with the pain, nausea, and chronic indigestion of gastritis. From testing for infections and diagnosing the root cause of your suffering to getting you the treatment you need, the team at Cary Gastro is ready to help. Request an appointment to begin finding freedom from the pain and discomfort of gastritis.