What is Chronic Gastritis? - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Chronic gastritis is a condition in which the stomach lining becomes irritated or inflamed - as you can imagine, it can be very painful. Read this lesson to learn why this happens, what the symptoms are, and what treatment options are available.

Discovering Chronic Gastritis

Steve has a stomachache that has persisted for 10 days. He doesn't think he's sick, but he's felt bloated and nauseous and has been burping more than usual. He starts his day with a pot of coffee and loves to eat fried chicken and pizza for lunch. Finally his discomfort becomes too much, and he decides to go see his doctor. His doctor runs some blood tests and inserts a camera through his mouth to look at his stomach, and Steve finds out he has chronic gastritis. What now?

What is Chronic Gastritis?

Let's take a look at what's going on with poor Steve. Gastritis is when the lining of the stomach (called the mucosa) becomes irritated, inflamed, or eroded. If it happens suddenly, it's called acute gastritis, but if it happens slowly and gradually over time, it's called chronic gastritis. We all know that our body produces stomach acid to help with the digestion of food, but sometimes this stomach acid begins breaking down the lining of the stomach, too. If this is left untreated, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms and last for years.

Causes of Chronic Gastritis

If you're like Steve, you're wondering what causes chronic gastritis. It can be the result of anything that increases the amount of acid in the stomach. This can happen due to a number of reasons, some of which are listed here:

  • Too much medication, like ibuprofen or aspirin (especially when taken on an empty stomach)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Cocaine use
  • Helicobacter pylori bacterial infection
  • Serious illness
  • Viral infections
  • Long-term stress
  • Bile in the stomach, called bile reflux
  • Allergic reactions
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Injury to the stomach
  • Pernicious anemia, when the body doesn't absorb vitamin B12 properly, a deficiency that affects the production of stomach cells
  • A heavily acidic diet (bad news for Steve)
  • A compromised immune system

Symptoms of Chronic Gastritis

Chronic gastritis may not have any symptoms at all, especially if the irritation is non-erosive (such as with H. pylori bacteria). Some relatively common symptoms may appear, though. These include pain in the upper abdomen, indigestion, bloating, nausea, vomiting, burping, loss of appetite, weight loss, hiccups, or a burning feeling in the stomach.

If left untreated, chronic gastritis can cause ulcers or polyps to develop or can even lead to stomach cancer. More severe symptoms occur in serious cases of chronic gastritis and include vomiting blood, bloody stools, or black and tarry stools. If these symptoms are present, the person should seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment Options

Steve was right to go see his doctor. If severe indigestion or pain lasts longer than a week, it's best to see a doctor to have your stomach checked out. The physician might run blood tests, analyze a stool sample, or perform an upper endoscopy, during which a tube with a camera is inserted through the mouth down to the stomach to look at the lining. Sometimes a small tissue sample is collected for a biopsy analysis.

The inside of the stomach, as seen through an upper endoscopy procedure.
Stomach endoscopy

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