Gastritis: Small Irritant can Lead to Big Problems
The first time I paid attention to the term 'gastritis' was in 2003 - it was just
one of those terms I heard but never gave much thought. I wasn't feeling well, my
stomach ached and I felt nauseous and it had been happening over a period of time.
I went to my doctor to have a checkup only to be informed that I had 'mild gastritis'.
Of course I had no real idea what it was and immediately feared the worst. In listening
to my doctor's analysis of my problem and asking questions, I became more curious
about my condition and what was happening in my body! I decided to do some research.
In doing my research I realised that if I did not take matters into hand, 'mild' could
possibly become 'chronic' which could even lead to stomach cancer.
What is Gastritis?
Gastritis is an inflammation, irritation or infection of the stomach lining which
erodes the lining over time. It occurs when white blood cells move into the wall of
the stomach. This irritation can come from many sources, but mainly has to do with
our diet and general lifestyle. For me, I had a job that demanded too much of my time
and I had fallen into the habit of going through the whole day hardly eating and eating
at odd times. My meals also consisted of foods that were not beneficial to my health.
Causes of Gastritis
In addition to what contributed to my condition, there are many other causes:
. Pernicious anemia (occurs when the body cannot absorbs vitamin B12)
. Food poisoning
. Excessive and long-term intake of alcohol (this stimulate the stomach to make acid
. Diet (eating too much and eating a lot spicy food and greasy foods since this cause
excess acid in the stomach)
. Bacterial infections such as Escherichia coli, Helicobacter pylori or Salmonella.
. Continued use of aspirin, cortisone, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)
drugs (long-term use can cause ulcer)
. Viral, fungal and parasitic infections
. Chronic bile influx (bile backing up into the stomach and the oesophagus)
. It can also develop after traumatic injury, severe infections and major surgery.
There are generally two types of gastritis - acute and chronic. At the acute stage,
the gastritis is caused by incessant intake of an irritant, such as aspirin. Chronic
gastritis is a result of persist gastritis and usually is the symptom of more serious
illnesses such as pernicious anemia, gastric ulcer, stomach cancer among others. Both
can cause nausea, discomfort after eating and loss of appetite.
I had experienced discomfort in my upper stomach, loss of appetite and had a feeling
of fullness after consuming little, which lead to weight loss. Although my symptoms
were typical, in general, symptoms vary and include belching or gas, nausea, vomiting,
fatigue, abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, abdominal bleeding and the presence
of blood in the stool or vomit, which are probably the more serious of the symptoms
as they indicate bleeding in the stomach lining. Most of these symptoms are similar
to those associated with many other medical conditions, therefore they might be ignored
In some instances a barium meal test is ordered by the doctor to determine the presence
of gastritis. It can however be accurately diagnosed doing a gastroscopy (endoscopy)
and a biopsy. To perform the gastroscopy procedure - a light, flexible camera called
a gastroscope is sent through the patient's mouth to examine the stomach. The doctor
then checks for any inflammation present and if deemed necessary, may remove small
samples for testing - this is known as the biopsy. Some doctors, as mine did, will
determine the condition by listening to the patient's medical history and performing
an examination. Other methods involve a stool test to check for blood in stool or
abnormal bacteria in the digestive tract, which would usually cause diarrhea and other
problems. A blood test is another option since it can determine the presence or lack
of sufficient red blood cells in the body.
Preventing and Treatment
Gastritis is rarely serious but the many complications can lead to severe health problems.
Treatment is dependent upon cause, medical history, age and health condition. Whether
you have been diagnosed with gastritis, feel you could be or even if you have no apparent
symptoms, take your health seriously. Stop smoking, eat moderately and regularly,
avoid taking too much aspirin or other drugs, drink less alcohol and in moderate proportions
- where possible, eliminate it all together, avoid greasy and spicy foods, eat foods
that are easier on the digestive system such as rice, potatoes, bananas and cooked
cereal, drink a lot of liquids, especially water and try to avoid sodas and similar
Restoring the stomach is priority. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat infections
or irritants. Antacids are also a good way of easing discomfort in the stomach since
it reduces stomach acids. Let me reiterate, DO NOT ignore vomiting and the passing
of blood in the stool, these are signs of chronic gastritis!
Other treatments might include getting massages, especially if your illness is stress
related. Herbs can also prove very useful in toning and strengthening the body's system.
Herbal teas noted for assisting in the healing process include those made from marshmallow
and slippery elm - they contain mucilage which soothe irritated digestive tracts and
so are very useful. Licorice root - decreases inflammation and promotes healing. My
very favourite, ginger root tea, enhances digestion and increases circulation. These
should be used under the supervision or upon the advice of your health care provider!
Also include in your diet foods which contain sulphur such as cauliflower, garlic,
onion and broccoli. Why sulphur? Sulphur helps to form glutathione and this provides
important antioxidant protection for the stomach lining. Vitamin C and zinc are useful
also. Use less sugar and diary products.
It is important that you do a follow up after diagnosis and treatment; the problem
can easily recur if you revert to old habits.
I had quite a few restless nights as a result of this condition. I always try to watch
what I eat and have successfully eliminated certain foods from my diet. Gastritis
is not as limiting as some conditions. For most cases, treatment is simple. I find
that moderation is key in reducing a recurrence of the problem. Once you have had
it, it never really goes away but once you adhere to a healthy lifestyle, you should
be fine. It might seem like one of life's small irritants but it can lead to big problems!