What is gastritis?
Gastritis is a common condition where the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed or irritated. It’s not usually serious and generally clears up quickly, but if it’s not treated properly it can last for a long time and sometimes lead to complications like a stomach ulcer.
What are the symptoms of gastritis?
For some people, there may be no symptoms but for others, symptoms may come on quickly and powerfully (known as acute gastritis) or go on for a long time (chronic gastritis).
Gastritis symptoms include:
Pain in the abdomen that comes and goes
Bloating or feeling very full after eating
Feeling sick and vomiting
Loss of appetite
In severe cases, the stomach lining can erode, exposing it to stomach acids and causing complications like bleeding or stomach ulcers.
What are the main types of gastritis?
H. pylori (chronic) gastritis
This form of chronic gastritis is the most common. It’s caused by an infection from H. pylori bacteria and is usually symptomless. Without treatment, chronic gastritis can last a long time and increase the chance of complications like stomach cancer. About 15% of people in the UK are infected but it is becoming less common over time.
Acute erosive gastropathy
This happens when your stomach lining is irritated by substances over a long period of time. These substances can include certain pain relief medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), alcohol and drugs like cocaine.
If you have acute erosive gastropathy, your stomach lining can quickly develop erosions, ulcers and bleeding. The bleeding is most often mild but can be severe.
Autoimmune gastritis is where your immune system attacks the healthy cells in your stomach lining. This is a type of chronic gastritis and usually doesn’t cause erosions.
What causes gastritis?
Most gastritis cases are caused by a common bacterial infection called H. pylori. These infections don’t usually cause symptoms, but sometimes they can cause inflammation of the stomach lining, leading to symptoms like recurrent indigestion.
Other possible causes of gastritis include:
Regular use of over-the-counter painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen (NSAIDs)
A stressful life event or an increase in general stress
An autoimmune reaction, where your immune system attacks your body's cells and tissues by mistake
How is gastritis diagnosed?
If you’re in a lot of pain or discomfort, or you’ve had ongoing indigestion problems, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. Always seek medical advice if you notice blood in your poo, vomit blood or your poo becomes very dark and sticky.
A doctor will usually be able to diagnose gastritis by asking about your symptoms and doing a short physical examination of your abdomen. If tests need to be taken, they might include:
Stool test – This can detect the H. pylori bacteria and show any blood in your poo
Breath test – Another way to detect the H. pylori infection, this involves drinking a liquid that contains radioactive carbon and then blowing into a bag
Endoscopy – This test feeds an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube) down the throat and into the stomach to see if there’s any sign of infection
How is gastritis treated?
Gastritis treatment aims to heal the stomach lining by reducing the amount of acid in the stomach.
Self-care to ease gastritis symptoms
Before taking medical treatments, you may benefit from trying other ways to reduce your symptoms. For example:
Switching to painkillers that aren’t classed as NSAIDs (for example paracetamol) if you think this is the cause of the gastritis
Avoiding the kind of foods that can irritate your stomach, like acidic or spicy foods
Eat little and often, rather than 3 big meals
Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink
Find ways to manage your stress levels
Medical treatment for gastritis
Antacids – Rapid pain relief medication that you can buy over-the-counter to help neutralise stomach acids
Histamine 2 (H2) blockers – Available over-the-counter or on prescription, these help to reduce the amount of acid produced in the stomach
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) – Another type of medication that reduces acid production.
Can gastritis cause complications?
Gastritis isn’t usually a serious condition, but occasionally it can cause complications if it lasts for a long time. These include:
Polyps in the stomach (small, abnormal tissue growth)
Tumours in your stomach that may or may not be cancerous
When should I seek help?
If your gastritis symptoms become hard to manage day-to-day, or you experience any complications as a result, speak to a doctor.
It’s also worth seeing a GP if:
Your gastritis could be caused by medication you've been prescribed
You're vomiting blood or have blood in your poo (the blood may appear black and sticky like tar)
You’re age 55 or older and have sudden weight loss
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi