Gastritis is a general term for a group of conditions with one thing in common: inflammation of the lining of the stomach. The inflammation of gastritis is most often the result of infection with the same bacterium that causes most stomach ulcers. Regular use of certain pain relievers and drinking too much alcohol also can contribute to gastritis.
Gastritis may occur suddenly (acute gastritis), or appear slowly over time (chronic gastritis). In some cases, gastritis can lead to ulcers and an increased risk of stomach cancer. For most people, however, gastritis isn’t serious and improves quickly with treatment.
Your stomach is a muscular sac about the size of a small melon that expands when you eat or drink to hold as much as a gallon of food or liquid. Once your stomach pulverizes the food, strong muscular contractions (peristaltic waves) push the food toward the pyloric valve, which leads to the upper portion of your small intestine (duodenum)
Gastritis can be caused by irritation due to excessive alcohol use, chronic vomiting, stress, or the use of certain medications such as aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs. It may also be caused by any of the following:
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori): A bacteria that lives in the mucous lining of the stomach; without treatment, the infection can lead to ulcers, and in some people, stomach cancer.
- Bile reflux: A backflow of bile into the stomach from the bile tract (that connects to the liver and gallbladder)
- Infections caused by bacteria and viruses
If gastritis is left untreated, it can lead to a severe loss of blood and may increase the risk of developing stomach cancer.
To diagnose gastritis, your doctor will review your personal medical perform a thorough physical evaluation, and may recommend any of the following tests:
- Upper endoscopy. An endoscope, a thin tube containing a tiny camera, is inserted through your mouth and down into your stomach to look at the stomach lining. The doctor will check for inflammation and may perform a biopsy, a procedure in which a tiny sample of tissue is removed and then sent to a laboratory for analysis.
- Blood tests. The doctor may perform various blood tests, such as checking your red blood cell count to determine whether you have anemia, which means that you do not have enough red blood cells. He or she can also screen for H. pylori infection and pernicious anemia with blood tests.
A Fecal occult blood test (stool test), this test checks for the presence of blood in your stool, a possible sign of gastritis.