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Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining. Many issues can cause it, and medications, dietary changes, and other interventions can help.

Gastritis can come on suddenly, causing noticeable symptoms that may quickly resolve without treatment. Chronic gastritis, however, may go unnoticed. Without treatment, it can lead to complications over time.

Helicobacter pylori bacteria represent the most common cause of gastritis worldwide. In other cases, the inflammation results from irritation, which might result from the use of alcohol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for example.

Chronic gastritis is a common problem, and sources estimate that more than 50% of the world’s population have it to some degre. This is an important public health concern, as the condition is linked with complications including stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.

Below, we explore the symptoms, causes, and treatments of gastritis and provide tips about what to eat and what to avoid to help ease symptoms.

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One person with gastritis may have no noticeable symptoms, while another may have severe symptoms.

Typically, people report sharp, stabbing, or burning pain in the upper-center or upper-left abdomen. The pain often radiates to the back.

Other common symptoms include bloating and nausea. When gastritis causes vomiting, the vomit may be clear, yellow, or green.

Symptoms of severe gastritis include:

Seek urgent medical attention for any of the following symptoms:

  • a rapid heartbeat
  • excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • abdominal pain with a fever
  • vomit that contains blood
  • a large amount of yellow or green vomit
  • black or bloody stool
  • dizziness and fainting

Gastritis occurs when the protective mucous lining of the stomach weakens, allowing digestive juices to damage it. This leads to inflammation.

Gastritis can be chronic, developing slowly and lasting a long time, or acute, developing and resolving quickly.

The condition can also be erosive or nonerosive. Erosive gastritis is severe and causes the stomach lining to wear down. It may come on suddenly or develop over time. Nonerosive gastritis causes changes to the stomach lining, rather than a gradual breakdown.

There are also subtypes. For example, acute stress gastritis is erosive, and it develops in response to changes caused by critical illness.

The following sections look at the various other causes of gastritis.

H. pylori bacteria

Most commonly, gastritis is caused by H. pylori bacteria, and around 35% of people in the U.S. have the bacteria in their bodies.

Irritating substances

Reactive gastritis, caused by irritants, is also relatively common, affecting 15% of people in the U.S.

NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and some other drugs commonly used for pain relief, can cause stomach irritation and gastritis. NSAIDs represent the most common noninfectious cause of stomach ulcers.

Some other irritants responsible for this issue include alcohol and bile.

Autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune disorders can lead to gastritis. For example, in people with autoimmune atrophic gastritis, the immune system attacks the stomach lining.

Damage to the stomach

Physical trauma or damage to the stomach lining can lead to gastritis.

For example, a person who has undergone surgery to remove part of their stomach may develop postgastrectomy gastritis, which causes the lining to degenerate.

The mechanisms behind this issue are still unclear, but postgastrectomy gastritis may stem from increased acid reflux, reactions from the vagal nerve, or a reduction in the number of acids triggered by hormones.

Other causes

Dietary factors do not usually cause gastritis, but food allergies and celiac disease can contribute to it.

Types of gastritis that stem from other issues include:

  • Infectious gastritis not caused by H. pylori: Viruses and fungi can cause gastritis in people with immune disorders or other long-term illnesses.
  • Radiation gastritis: When the abdomen is exposed to radiation, this can irritate the stomach lining.
  • Eosinophilic gastritis: This can result from an allergic reaction.
  • Ménétrier disease: This is rare and involves the development of thick folds and cysts on the stomach wall.

Some people, including older adults and people with compromised immune function, are more likely to develop gastritis.

Many health issues and factors such as smoking can also increase the chances.

Risk factors for gastritis include:

  • smoking
  • high levels of stress
  • an excessive use of alcohol or cocaine
  • swallowing corrosives or foreign objects
  • a history of chronic vomiting
  • a vitamin B12 deficiency
  • the routine use of NSAIDs
  • the regular use of prescription steroids, chemotherapy, potassium supplements, or iron supplements
  • exposure to radiation, either as a treatment or by contamination
  • bile reflux after stomach surgery
  • an autoimmune disorder, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or type 1 diabetes
  • HIV
  • Crohn’s disease

Other infections that can increase the risk of gastritis include tuberculosis and syphilis.

There are many possible means of transferring H. pylori from one person to the next, and contaminated food, water, or cutlery may play a role.

Chronic gastritis can increase the risk of other gastrointestinal conditions, including stomach ulcers, also called peptic ulcers, and bleeding in the stomach.

Certain types of gastritis, including autoimmune atrophic gastritis and H. pylori gastritis, can reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron from the blood. Autoimmune atrophic gastritis can also affect vitamin B12 absorption, which can lead to anemia.

In addition, having H. pylori gastritis may slightly increase the risk of developing stomach cancer.

The following can help a doctor diagnose gastritis:

  • a physical examination
  • the person’s medical history and current symptoms
  • checking for the presence of H. pylori using blood, breath, or stool testing
  • endoscopy
  • electrocardiography

In some cases, a doctor can diagnose gastritis with X-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. They might refer to these X-rays as an upper gastrointestinal series or a barium swallow.

The doctor may also request:

  • evaluations of kidney and liver function
  • a test for anemia
  • gallbladder and pancreas function tests
  • pregnancy tests

If these are inconclusive, the doctor may perform an upper endoscopy. This involves inserting a thin, flexible, illuminated tube down through the mouth and throat and into the stomach to perform a visual examination.

While diet and nutrition do not typically cause gastritis, alcohol, food allergies, and some supplements can contribute to it.

Dietary changes are not a main treatment of gastritis, except when gastritis stems from celiac disease or food allergies.

That said, some people find that eating certain foods helps with their symptoms, and doing so may also help the body get rid of H. pylori bacteria.

Foods to eat and avoid

Eating fewer foods that can irritate the stomach, such as spicy, acidic, or fried foods, may help manage gastritis — as can eating smaller, more frequent meals.

Read about diet tips for gastritis and stomach ulcers here.

The best approach depends on the cause of the condition and whether it is acute or chronic.

Treatment may involve a range of medications, such as:

  • Antibiotics: A single course of can often directly treat H. pylori. The doctor may prescribe clarithromycin (Biaxin) and metronidazole (Flagyl).
  • Proton pump inhibitors: Omeprazole (Prilosec) or lansoprazole (Prevacid), for example, can block the production of acid and aid healing.
  • H2 blockers: These drugs, such as famotidine (Pepcid), can decrease acid production.
  • Antacids: These can neutralize stomach acid. Many are available for purchase online.
  • Coating agents: Sucralfate ( Carafate) or misoprostol (Cytotec) can coat and protect the stomach lining.
  • Antinausea medications: A range is available for purchase online.

Combining the right medications with the recommended dietary changes is the surest way to tackle gastritis.

Scientists have yet to fully explore the many issues that may cause gastritis, and because some causes remain unknown, it may be impossible to prevent the issue.

However, a person can reduce the risk by:

  • having good hand hygiene and eating well-cooked foods
  • avoiding medications that can irritate the stomach
  • avoiding smoking and alcohol

Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining, and an infection with H. pylori bacteria is the most common cause.

If a person does not receive treatment, gastritis can lead to complications, such as stomach ulcers or vitamin deficiencies. Untreated gastritis may also increase the risk of developing stomach cancer.

Depending on the cause of the inflammation and whether it is acute or chronic, treatments may involve OTC or prescription medications, antibiotics, and dietary changes.