Gut Feel­ings About Gas­tri­tis When Your Stom­ach's Sick

Wellness Update - - Allergies -

Your stom­ach lin­ing has an im­por­tant job. It makes acid and en­zymes that help break down food so you can ex­tract the nu­tri­ents you need. The lin­ing also pro­tects it­self from acid dam­age by se­cret­ing mu­cus. But some­times the lin­ing gets in­flamed and starts mak­ing less acid, en­zymes and mu­cus. This type of in­flam­ma­tion is called gas­tri­tis, and it can cause long-term prob­lems.

Some peo­ple think they have gas­tri­tis when they have pain or an un­com­fort­able feel­ing in their up­per stom­ach. But many other con­di­tions can cause th­ese symp­toms. Gas­tri­tis can some­times lead to pain, nau­sea and vom­it­ing. But it of­ten has no symp­toms at all. If left un­treated, though, some types of gas­tri­tis can lead to ul­cers (sores in the stom­ach lin­ing) or even stom­ach can­cer.

Peo­ple used to think gas­tri­tis and ul­cers were caused by stress and spicy foods. But re­search stud­ies show that bac­te­ria called He­li­cobac­ter py­lori are of­ten to blame. Usu­ally, th­ese bac­te­ria cause no symp­toms. In the United States, 20% to 50% of the pop­u­la­tion may be in­fected with H. py­lori.

H. py­lori breaks down the in­ner pro­tec­tive coat­ing in some peo­ple’s stom­achs and causes in­flam­ma­tion. “I tell peo­ple H. py­lori is like hav­ing ter­mites in your stom­ach,” says Dr. David Gra­ham, an ex­pert in di­ges­tive dis­eases at Bay­lor Col­lege of Medicine in Texas. “You usu­ally don’t know you have ter­mites un­til some­one tells you, and you ig­nore it at your own risk.” H. py­lori can spread by pass­ing from per­son to per­son or through con­tam­i­nated food or water. In­fec­tions can be treated with bac­te­ria-killing drugs called an­tibi­otics.

One type of gas­tri­tis, called ero­sive gas­tri­tis, wears away the stom­ach lin­ing. The most com­mon cause of ero­sive gas­tri­tis is long-term use of med­i­ca­tions called non-steroidal an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory drugs. Th­ese in­clude as­pirin and ibupro­fen. “When you stop tak­ing the drugs, the con­di­tion usu­ally goes away,” says Gra­ham. Doc­tors might also rec­om­mend re­duc­ing the dose or switch­ing to an­other class of pain med­i­ca­tion.

Less com­mon causes of gas­tri­tis in­clude cer­tain di­ges­tive dis­or­ders (such as Crohn’s disease) and au­toim­mune dis­or­ders, in which the body’s pro­tec­tive im­mune cells mis­tak­enly at­tack healthy cells in the stom­ach lin­ing.

Gas­tri­tis can be di­ag­nosed with an en­do­scope, a thin tube with a tiny cam­era on the end, which is in­serted through the pa­tient’s mouth or nose and into the stom­ach. The doc­tor will look at the stom­ach lin­ing and may also re­move some tis­sue sam­ples for test­ing. Treat­ment will de­pend on the type of gas­tri­tis you have.

Although stress and spicy foods don’t cause gas­tri­tis and ul­cers, they can make symp­toms worse. Milk might pro­vide brief re­lief, but it also in­creases stom­ach acid, which can worsen symp­toms. Your doc­tor may rec­om­mend tak­ing antacids or other drugs to re­duce acid in the stom­ach.

Talk with a health care provider if you’re con­cerned about on­go­ing pain or dis­com­fort in your stom­ach. Th­ese symp­toms can have many causes. Your doc­tor can help de­ter­mine the best course of ac­tion for you.

-Source: NIH News in Health, Novem­ber 2012, pub­lished by the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health and the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices. For more in­for­ma­tion go to www.news­in­health.nih.gov

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