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Gastritis is a condition in which the lining of the stomach is inflamed. There are two kinds: acute and chronic gastritis.
Acute gastritis is usually caused by an irritant or infection. It can cause severe stomach pain and sudden inflammation but usually resolves quickly upon treatment.
Chronic gastritis occurs when the stomach lining is damaged over an extended period. Symptoms tend to appear more slowly and sometimes are not felt at all. Long-lasting inflammation may take longer for the stomach lining to return to normal, if it ever does.
Alcoholic gastritis is stomach inflammation caused by excessive alcohol use. Those who drink heavily may put themselves at an increased risk for either acute gastritis or chronic gastritis.
Alcohol can cause gastritis in two main ways. When you wake up with stomach pain after a night of heavy drinking, you are likely suffering from acute gastritis. Irritants such as spicy foods or strong alcohol can cause this.
After abstaining from anything that may irritate the stomach, this condition should pass relatively quickly.
Repeated alcohol consumption over an extended period can raise your risk for chronic gastritis. Alcohol gradually irritates and erodes your stomach lining. This exposes your stomach tissues underneath to digestive acids.
Left untreated, chronic gastritis can lead to various symptoms and complications such as esophageal and stomach cancer.
At the same time, alcohol decreases the amount of stomach acid produced, making it more difficult for it to destroy bacteria. These bacteria can infect the stomach, causing stomach ulcers and other harmful problems.
Besides alcohol, there are other potential causes of gastritis. One of the main causes is a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. It is unknown how it is transmitted but it is possible it is through contaminated food or water or person-to-person contact.3
Most people do not get sick from Helicobacter pylori bacteria (H. pylori). But those who experience inflammation due to erosive gastritis have weaker stomach linings, which allows H. pylori to directly infect the stomach lining. Alcohol consumption raises your risk of contracting this infection by increasing stomach acid secretion. This eats away mucosal protection found in the stomach lining and causes H. pylori to directly infect it.
Crohn’s Disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, has been linked to gastritis in rare cases. This is because H. pylori is very common in patients suffering from the disease. Another possible co-occurring disorder is sarcoidosis, a condition in which collections of inflammatory cells grow throughout the body.
Smoking cigarettes and taking NSAIDs, like aspirin, are more common comorbidities associated with gastritis.
Alcoholic gastritis symptoms may include:
It is important to note that gastritis can sometimes be asymptomatic. In addition, some of these symptoms can be due to other conditions such as indigestion. If you are vomiting blood or see it in your stool, you should seek medical attention from a doctor.
The main group at risk for alcoholic gastritis are those who consistently drink too much alcohol. Alcohol damages your stomach lining, making the stomach more vulnerable to digestive juices.
Often this category overlaps with older adults. Older adults are at higher risk for gastritis because the stomach lining thins with age.
Middle-aged and elderly adults suffering from alcohol addiction are particularly at high risk for alcoholic gastritis.
This depends on whether it is acute or chronic gastritis. Acute gastritis can resolve relatively quickly (a few hours to several days) after simple dietary changes. Chronic gastritis, if left untreated, can take weeks or even years to heal.
Complications from alcohol-related gastritis may include:
It is now well understood that the brain and the gut are connected: the brain helps control the gut. According to recent research, this relationship may go both ways, with the gut also influencing the brain.1
Studies show a link between inflammation of the stomach lining caused by alcoholic gastritis and feelings of depression, anxiety, and reduced attention span.2 Stomach inflammation may also exacerbate or directly cause a variety of disorders like cancer and liver disease.1
Alcoholic gastritis can be diagnosed with a careful look at your medical history and a thorough physical exam.
When you visit your medical care provider, you may go through any or all of the following tests:
You drink a small glass of special clear liquid containing radioactive carbon. H. pylori breaks down this liquid in your stomach. You then blow into a bag, which is then sealed and tested. If the sample contains radioactive carbon, that means you are infected with H. pylori.
The doctor inserts a thin and flexible lighted tube called an endoscope down your esophagus.
This tube is equipped with a lens, allowing the doctor to inspect your digestive system for signs of inflammation. The doctor can also use the endoscope to retrieve small tissue samples for laboratory examination (this is known as a biopsy).
First, you’ll drink a white metallic liquid called barium. Then the doctor takes an x-ray of your digestive system, examining your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. This is to look for any abnormalities, such as stomach ulcers.
This looks for signs of anemia and H. pylori infection.
This is done to check for H. pylori bacteria or blood, both of which are common symptoms of gastritis.
Medical treatment for alcoholic gastritis will depend on symptoms, age, and overall health. But the first thing a doctor will likely recommend is quitting alcohol.
Your doctor will also consider medications such as NSAIDs or aspirin as significant risk factors in your treatment. They will ask you to stop taking them.
Other recommendations may include avoiding spicy or acidic foods (such as coffee), as well as stress.
Acid-reducing medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (ex: Nexium), histamine blockers, antibiotics, or antacids may also be prescribed.
Treatment options for alcohol misuse might also be pursued at the same time.
The good news is that in most cases, alcoholic gastritis is completely reversible. Through abstinence from alcohol use and with proper treatment, a person’s digestive system can make a complete recovery (some scar tissue on the stomach lining may remain).
If you recognize any of these symptoms, you should consider speaking to a doctor. You may be suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD), more commonly known as alcohol addiction.
The primary symptoms of AUD include:
Mutual support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can also be helpful. These options can be pursued in conjunction with treatment for alcoholic gastritis.
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