Page header image


What is gastritis?

Gastritis is inflammation of the lining of the stomach. Inflammation means the stomach lining is raw and painful.

How does it occur?

Gastritis is the response of the stomach lining to infection or injury. Many things can cause it. In its mildest form, gastritis can result from drinking too much alcohol or eating certain foods, such as hot spicy foods. Other common causes of gastritis are:

  • infection with the bacteria H. pylori
  • some medicines taken to treat pain and inflammation of other parts of the body, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketoprofen
  • steroid medicines, such as prednisone
  • stress from accidents or injuries, such as being in a car wreck, having a bad infection, or getting burned.

Caffeine may increase the pain of gastritis.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of gastritis are different from person to person and depend on the cause. Common symptoms are:

  • a sharp or burning pain or an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach
  • a feeling of bloating, burping, or heartburn that moves upward into your throat
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea or vomiting
  • mild fever.

At its worst, gastritis can cause the lining of the stomach to bleed, which may cause you to throw up either bloody or dark brown fluid. (The dark fluid, which is partially digested blood, looks like it has coffee grounds in it.) If the blood moves through your stomach and into your intestines, you may have bowel movements that are bloody or black and tarry looking. If you have these symptoms, call your healthcare provider right away.

How is it diagnosed?

Gastritis is diagnosed from a careful history and physical exam. Tests that may be done include:

  • A rectal exam to check for blood in the stool.
  • Blood tests to check for anemia and H. pylori infections.
  • Upper endoscopy, which means a slim, flexible, lighted tube is passed down your throat into the stomach to look at the stomach lining. A sample (biopsy) of the stomach lining may be taken for lab tests.

If you are having severe symptoms, you may have a procedure called gastric lavage to look for bleeding. For this test, a tube is put into your stomach to suction fluid from it for testing.

How is it treated?

The treatment of gastritis depends on the cause and how severe it is. Mild gastritis generally gets better on its own. Possible treatments for the symptoms of gastritis are:

  • taking antacids or other medicines that make stomach acid less acidic
  • taking medicines that reduce the amount of stomach acid you make
  • avoiding things that irritate the stomach, such as anti-inflammatory medicines, smoking, alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods.

If infection with H. pylori is causing the gastritis, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics.

Once your symptoms are relieved, your provider may keep looking for the underlying cause, depending on the severity of your symptoms. Treatment of the cause should help keep the gastritis from coming back.

How long will the effects last?

How long the effects last depends on what is causing the gastritis. For example, it may last just a few hours if it is caused by something you ate or drank. It may take several weeks to control symptoms that have been present for awhile.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow the instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Regardless of the underlying cause of the gastritis, you can make it better or worse with what you eat and drink and the medicines you take.
    • Avoid spicy or acidic foods.
    • Eat only bland foods, such as soda crackers, toast, plain pasta, noodles, bananas, and baked or broiled potatoes and clear liquids, until symptoms stop.
    • Don’t drink regular or decaf coffee.
    • Don’t drink alcohol.
    • When your symptoms are gone, ask your provider for diet recommendations.
    • Don’t take anti-inflammatory medicine (such as aspirin and ibuprofen). If you need something for pain, acetaminophen is safe if your liver is normal and you take it as directed.
  • Long-term gastritis increases the risk of stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. Be sure to let your provider know if your symptoms are not getting better and especially if they are getting worse.

How can I help prevent gastritis?

Everyone's stomach is different. Some ways that might help prevent gastritis are:

  • If you find that aspirin causes you to get gastritis, then use a different medicine. (If your healthcare provider has prescribed aspirin for you, be sure to ask about stopping the aspirin. You may need to change the dose, use a coated aspirin, or take a different medicine.
  • Keep track of what you ate before an attack. Avoid foods that seem to trigger gastritis. If you get gastritis every time you eat chili, avoid it.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or have no more than 1 drink a day if you are a woman and no more than 2 drinks a day if you are a man.
Written by Tom Richards, MD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-12
Last reviewed: 2010-10-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
Page footer image