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Gastritis is a general term for inflammation of the stomach lining. There are so many different types of gastritis, however, that it is difficult to come up with a single gastritis definition.
Sometimes, gastritis is defined based on its cause, such as “H. pylori gastritis” (gastritis caused by infection with the Helicobacter bacteria). Other times, the gastritis definition is based on whether the cells within the mucous layer of the stomach lining have atrophied or not, as in “atrophic gastritis.”
Gastritis is also often defined in terms of whether it is acute (comes on suddenly and lasts for a short time) or chronic (long-lasting or recurrent). Another way gastritis is defined is based on whether it has caused any actual erosion through multiple layers of the stomach’s lining (“erosive gastritis”).
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Gastritis Definition: Typically Based on Cause
One common way to define gastritis is based on what’s causing it. And the causes of gastritis can range from infections to autoimmune reactions to chemicals to allergies:
- H. pylori-associated gastritis: Infection of the stomach lining with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria causes most cases of chronic gastritis. This type of gastritis is usually chronic and rarely causes symptoms, although it can lead to abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and decreased appetite. It should be treated whether symptoms are present or not, however, because it may lead to ulcers or stomach cancer.
- Autoimmune gastritis: This type of gastritis is caused by a condition in which the immune system starts to incorrectly attack certain types of cells within the lining of the stomach, leading to inflammation and atrophy. Some of the autoantibodies in autoimmune gastritis cause decreased absorption of vitamin B-12 and, eventually, symptoms of B12 deficiency and pernicious anemia can arise.
- Chemical or reactive gastritis: This type of gastritis caused by injury to the gastric mucosa resulting from reflux of intestinal contents containing bile into the stomach, or, more frequently, by outside substances, including NSAIDs, aspirin, chemotherapy drugs, and alcohol. These chemicals cause cell damage, erosions, ulcers, and bleeding.
- Allergic gastritis: Allergies to foods may cause allergic gastritis, also called eosinophilic gastritis (based on the presence of immune cells called eosinophils, which accumulate during allergic reactions). Allergic gastritis is more common in children and often occurs in those with milk or soy allergies.
To diagnosis gastritis, your doctor may order tests such as an upper GI series (a series of x-rays of the upper digestive system taken after drinking a barium solution) or an endoscopy (a thin, lighted tube inserted down the throat and into the stomach to examine the inside of the stomach). Sometimes blood, breath, or stool tests are ordered to check for infection with the bacteria H. pylori.
Digging In: Gastritis Definition Details
The following factors all can come into play when defining gastritis.
- A gastritis definition can be based on atrophy of the mucous membrane layer. Atrophic gastritis is any gastritis in which chronic inflammation of the mucous membrane layer of the stomach lining (gastric mucosa) has caused atrophy of the glandular cells within the lining. Atrophic gastritis is the endpoint of chronic processes, most commonly of chronic H. pylori-associated gastritis and autoimmune gastritis.
- Gastritis can sometimes erode multiple layers of the stomach lining without causing much inflammation. Erosive gastritis is a type of gastritis that often does not cause significant inflammation but can wear away the stomach lining. Erosive gastritis can cause bleeding, erosions, or ulcers. Erosive gastritis may be acute or chronic. The most common cause of both acute and chronic erosive gastritis is prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Alcohol, cocaine, and radiation can also cause erosive gastritis. “Stress gastritis” is a name of a particular type of acute erosive gastritis caused by traumatic injuries, critical illness, severe burns, and major surgery.
- Gastritis symptoms are highly variable. In fact, many people with gastritis have no symptoms. But for those who do, symptoms may include upper abdominal burning and pain, acid reflux (when stomach acid comes up the esophagus), burping, bloating, loss of appetite, feeling full, and nausea and vomiting. If the gastritis is causing bleeding, bloody or black vomit and/or bloody or dark black stools may be noticeable.
Natural Gastritis Remedies and Gastritis Foods
Treatment of gastritis heavily depends on the cause. Many effective natural gastritis treatments are available and can be used in addition to or in place of conventional treatments, depending on the cause and severity of the inflammation.
The following two articles provide excellent information on how to naturally treat gastritis based on the cause:
- “Gastritis Relief: The Key is to Treat the Root Cause“
- “Gastritis Diet: Healing the Inside from the Outside“
 National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Gastritis. Accessed Feb. 14, 2014.
 Medscape. eMedicine. Atrophic Gastritis. Accessed Feb. 14, 2014.
 Medscape. eMedicine. Chronic Gastritis. Accessed Feb. 14, 2014.
 Medscape. eMedicine. Helicobacter Pylori-Associated Active Gastritis. Accessed Feb. 14, 2014.
Originally published in 2014 and updated.