Gastritis occurs when the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed after it's been damaged. It's a common condition with a wide range of causes.
For most people, gastritis isn't serious and improves quickly if treated – but if not, it can last for years.
Symptoms of gastritis
Many people with gastritis caused by a bacterial infection don't have any symptoms. In other cases, gastritis can cause:
- gnawing or burning stomach pain
- nausea and vomiting
- feeling full after eating
If the stomach lining has been worn away (erosive gastritis) and exposed to stomach acid, symptoms may include pain, bleeding or a stomach ulcer.
The symptoms of gastritis may come on suddenly and severely (acute gastritis) or last a long time (chronic gastritis).
When to see your GP
If you have indigestion and stomach pain, you can try treating this yourself with changes to your diet and lifestyle, or with a number of different over-the-counter medications, such as antacids.
See your GP if:
- you have indigestion symptoms lasting a week or longer, or it's causing you severe pain or discomfort
- you think it's brought on by medication you've been prescribed
- you're vomiting blood or have blood in your stools (your stools may appear black)
Stomach ache and abdominal pain aren't always a sign of gastritis – the pain could be caused by a wide range of other things, from trapped wind to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Your GP may recommend one or more of the following tests:
- a stool test – to check for infection or bleeding from the stomach
- a breath test for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection – this involves drinking a glass of clear, tasteless liquid that contains radioactive carbon and blowing into a bag
- an endoscopy – a flexible tube (endoscope) is passed down your throat and into your oesophagus and stomach to look for signs of inflammation
- a barium swallow – you're given some barium solution, which shows up clearly on X-rays as it passes through your digestive system
Read more about how gastritis is treated.
Possible causes of gastritis
Gastritis is usually caused by one of the following:
- a H. pylori bacterial infection – see below
- excessive use of cocaine or alcohol
- regularly taking aspirin, ibuprofen or other painkillers classed as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- a stressful event – such as a bad injury or critical illness, or major surgery
- less commonly, an autoimmune reaction – when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own cells and tissues (in this case, the stomach lining)
H. pylori gastritis
Many people become infected with H. pylori bacteria and don't realise it. These stomach infections are common and don't usually cause symptoms.
However, an H. pylori infection can sometimes cause recurring bouts of indigestion, as the bacteria can cause inflammation of the stomach lining.
This sort of gastritis is more common in older age groups and is usually the cause of chronic (persistent) non-erosive cases.
An H. pylori stomach infection is usually lifelong, unless it's treated with eradication therapy (see below).
Treatment aims to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach to relieve symptoms, allowing the stomach lining to heal and to tackle any underlying cause.
You may be able to treat gastritis yourself, depending on the cause.
- antacids – these over-the-counter medicines neutralise the acid in your stomach, which can provide rapid pain relief
- histamine 2 (H2) blockers such as ranitidine – these medicines decrease acid production, and are available both over the counter and on prescription
- proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as omeprazole – these medicines decrease acid production even more effectively than H2 blockers, and are available both over the counter and on prescription
Treating H. pylori infection
If you've been diagnosed with an H. pylori infection, you'll need to take a course of antibiotics alongside a medication called a proton pump inhibitor.
Read more about treating an H. pylori infection.
What else can I do to help myself?
If you think the cause of your gastritis is repeated use of NSAID painkillers, try switching to a different painkiller that isn't in the NSAID class, such as paracetamol. You may want to talk to your GP about this.
- eating smaller, more frequent meals
- avoiding irritating (spicy, acidic or fried) foods
- avoiding or cutting down on alcohol
- managing stress (read our relaxation tips)
Possible complications of gastritis
Chronic gastritis increases your risk of developing:
- a stomach ulcer
- polyps (small growths) in your stomach
- tumours in your stomach, which may or may not be cancerous