"It was some of the worst pain I have ever experienced."
"At first, I thought it was just a stomachache, but the pain got so bad, I went to the ER."
These comments describe gastritis, a condition in which the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed or swollen. It can start suddenly, as a stomachache, or be chronic, lasting years if not properly treated. In some cases, gastritis will erode the stomach lining, leaving ulcers or deep sores, which can cause bleeding in the stomach.
According to Dr. Erick Alayo, a gastroenterologist affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, infection by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria is the most common cause of gastritis. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that H. pylori is likely spread through contaminated food, water or eating utensils, or the saliva and body fluids of someone already infected.
Other common causes of gastritis include the following:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen
- Alcohol consumption
- Cocaine use
- Exposure to radiation
- Bile reflux from the small intestine into the stomach
- Stress, traumatic injury, critical illness, severe burns or major surgery
- Autoimmune disorder
Many people who suffer from gastritis do not experience symptoms. Those who do, however, complain of severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
Although some use the term "gastritis" for a variety of stomach pain causes, true gastritis is diagnosed by an upper endoscopy — a procedure in which a small, lighted camera is guided through the mouth and down into the upper abdomen — and a biopsy, which is an examination of tissue samples from the stomach lining.
The good news is that though the symptoms of gastritis can be severe, its treatment is not complicated.
"Gastritis can usually be treated at home under doctor supervision," says Dr. Alayo. "We usually prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, and stop any medications that could be causing it."
Reducing acid in the stomach can also help relieve gastritis-induced discomfort. Antacids work to neutralize stomach acid, but may also have unwanted side effects, such as constipation or diarrhea.
If left untreated, Dr. Alayo says that the symptoms will likely persist. In the case of H. pylori infection, the risk for gastric ulcers and spreading of the infection also increases.
To decrease the risk of gastritis, Dr. Alayo recommends that you avoid H. pylori bacterial infection through frequent hand-washing and steering clear of people who are sick.
He also suggests the following:
- Avoid the abuse of medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen
- Only eat properly washed and prepared food
- Drink clean, safe water
- Limit alcohol consumption
Contact your doctor if you experience extreme abdominal distress, as it may be a more serious condition.