Gastritis is one of the common problems everyone faces often. However, very few of us act on it smartly. This reading will throw some light on the facts about gastritis and how to tackle it smartly and the healthy way.
Gastritis refers to inflammation of the inner lining of the stomach. It can be either acute (symptoms for less than around 6 weeks) or chronic (symptoms persisting for more than 6 weeks). Sometimes, the inflammation of the lining can progress to erosion or ‘eating away’ of the stomach lining, causing ulcers (peptic ulcers) in the stomach, or the first part of the small intestine.
CAUSES OF GASTRITIS
It can be caused by a multitude of causes, the most common of which are:
- Helicobacter pylori (a bacterium) infection
- Use of certain drugs – over-the-counter painkillers/antipyretics
- Alcohol consumption
- Stress – physical (severe illness/after surgery) as well as lifestyle-related causes.
Other, rarer causes include Pernicious Anaemia (an autoimmune disorder), Crohn’s Disease (a type of inflammatory bowel disease), radiation therapy, use of steroids, etc.
Dietary factors like excessive/long-term intake of tea, coffee, spicy food etc. are believed to have a minor role in the causation of gastritis.
SYMPTOMS OF GASTRITIS
The symptoms that gastritis produces are grouped under a broad term, dyspeptic symptoms. This includes
- Upper abdominal pain typically in between meals, or late at night
- Loss of appetite,
- Vomiting of blood or dark-brown coloured material
- Dark stools
- Weight loss etc.
It is important to note that among the elderly, in people with diabetes mellitus, and in hypertensives, a heart attack may present with symptoms similar to those of gastritis.
DIAGNOSIS OF GASTRITIS
The diagnosis of gastritis is usually made on clinical grounds, based on the patients’ symptoms, but there are a few tests that can be used to confirm the diagnosis, and supplement clinical examination. The gold standard for establishing a diagnosis is an upper gastrointestinal tract endoscopy, using which, the inflamed lining of the stomach can be examined under direct vision, and if required, some tissue can be removed (a biopsy can be done) for further analysis.
Tests for Diagnosis of Gastritis
- Complete blood count with a blood smear.
- Presence of occult blood in stool
- ECG (to rule out heart attacks, in the high-risk population)
- Tests for H. pylori infection – breath tests, tests on affected tissue after a biopsy.
TREATMENT FOR GASTRITIS
The best way to tackle gastritis is to prevent it, or control the factors that cause it.
- Lifestyle and dietary changes
- Cessation of smoking
- Decreasing alcohol consumption
- Avoiding long-term use of the drugs that increase the risk of gastritis
- Control of stress through meditation, yoga etc.
The treatment of gastritis depends on the cause, and the duration of symptoms. Isolated events of heartburn and abdominal pain can be treated quite effectively with antacids. Persisting symptoms require a course of antacids, usually prescribed for 2 weeks to a month. Antacids relieve the symptoms of gastritis and peptic ulcers, but are not effective in the treatment of an underlying ulcer, if present.
Treatment of an H. pylori infection requires a multi-drug regimen that includes antacids and antibiotics.
The prognosis of gastritis is usually excellent, with appropriate medical management, but chronic gastritis, especially when associated with H. pylori infection, is a risk factor for gastric cancer, and thus, requires periodic follow-up.