Almost everyone, at one point or another, experiences stomach issues. Whether it’s heartburn, indigestion, or nausea, feeling a little sick to your stomach can be an unpleasant thing to go through. As we get older, however, it’s important to be more cautious about these types of symptoms because they could indicate a case of gastritis. And because a thinning of the stomach wall is a natural part of aging, gastritis tends to affect the elderly more than it does younger people.
Basically, gastritis is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach, caused by a weakening of the mucus-lined tissue that protects the stomach wall. This allows digestive juices to damage the stomach lining, causing the inflammation. While gastritis is usually only a minor issue that improves quickly, it can sometimes lead to ulcers and even increase the risk of stomach cancer in more severe cases.
There are two types of gastritis: acute gastritis, which comes on suddenly, and chronic gastritis, which develops gradually over time. While gastritis doesn’t always cause obvious symptoms, with acute gastritis, you’re likely to see any of several signs, including:
- Sharp pain in the stomach or belly
- Diminished appetite
- Gas and bloating
- Nausea and/or vomiting
With acute gastritis, the recovery time is generally shorter, usually improving within a few days after treatment has begun. In milder cases, treatment may not even be necessary.
Chronic gastritis, on the other hand, typically starts with duller pain that lasts longer, sometimes as long as a month or two. Also, with chronic gastritis, it can lead to long-term digestive issues such as gastric polyps or peptic ulcers, as well as stomach cancer in rare cases.
It’s important to note that gastritis is not the same as gastroenteritis. While gastritis affects only the stomach, gastroenteritis affects both the stomach and the intestines and often causes diarrhea. Also, because diarrhea and vomiting cause you to lose water, gastroenteritis can result in severe dehydration.
Causes and risk factors
More often than not, the inflammation that accompanies gastritis is caused by Helicobacter pylori, the same bacteria that causes most stomach ulcers. Once H. pylori enters the body, it can live in the digestive tract for years before causing problems.
Gastritis can also be caused by the ongoing use of pain relievers like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, as well as drinking too much alcohol. Certain foods, especially spicy foods, highly acidic foods, or foods high in fat, can trigger a bout of gastritis. Additionally, the risk of gastritis can increase with some diseases and conditions, including Crohn’s disease and sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease where abnormal masses of inflamed tissues form in some organs.
Because acute gastritis usually goes away after a few days or weeks, the best course of action at first is to stop eating foods that aggravate the condition, or try using over-the-counter and prescribed medications. If the gastritis is more severe, such as cases that cause vomiting or diarrhea, intravenous fluids may be administered to keep you hydrated and balance your electrolytes. For chronic gastritis, the treatment is usually the same as treatment for an ulcer, consisting of antacids and bland foods.
Fortunately, the lining of the stomach regenerates quickly so, in most cases, healing occurs with no medical intervention. That said, it’s wise to talk to your physician if you have any doubt at all or if the problem lasts too long. In fact, it’s important to see a doctor as quickly as possible if any of the following symptoms are present:
- Vomiting blood, which may appear red, but also could resemble coffee grounds if the blood has been in the stomach for a while.
- Stool that is black or tarry, which may indicate gastrointestinal bleeding.
- Rapid heartbeat.
- Vertigo or dizziness.
- Sweating or fever.
It’s important to remember that, while a mild case of gastritis may come and go quickly, if the condition persists for too long, it can cause stomach ulcers, bleeding in the stomach, and even stomach cancer. So, it’s best not to take chances and see a physician if you feel that your condition is not getting better after a week or so.