Atrophic Gastritis

When someone has atrophic gastritis, it interferes with the normal functioning of the stomach. The ability to store and digest food gets hampered. Atrophic gastritis symptoms may include illness, discomfort or people might remain asymptomatic as well. It can be caused by bacterial infections and other conditions. Various methods can be used to prevent atrophic gastritis and many treatment options are available to relieve the symptoms as well.

What Is Atrophic Gastritis?

Atrophic gastritis can be divided into type A (A for anemia) or type B (B for bacteria) atrophic gastritis. Type A atrophic gastritis is also called autoimmune gastritis. One of the problems caused by it is deficiency of vitamin B12, which in turn leads to megaloblastic anemia and iron deficiency anemia. Therefore, in type A atrophic gastritis, the fundus of the stomach gets affected and is common with pernicious anemia. Type B atrophic gastritis is caused by frequent infection from Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). In this case, people are at risk of suffering from gastric carcinoma, achlorhydria and Hashimoto’s thydroiditis. Type B atrophic gastritis is more common than type A atrophic gastritis.

In both conditions, there is chronic inflammation of the mucosa in the stomach. This causes damage and loss of the glandular cells in the stomach and they get replaced by intestinal and fibrous tissue. The secretion of the digestive juices like hydrochloric acid, pepsin and intrinsic factors gets disturbed and leads to digestive disorders.

What Are the Symptoms of Atrophic Gastritis?

Since many people remain asymptomatic, atrophic gastritis can go unnoticed. The symptoms can differ depending on the causative factor. When it is caused by H. pylori infection, the symptoms are:

  • Stomach pain, loss of appetite
  • Nausea, vomiting, weight loss
  • Stomach ulcer, stomach cancer
  • Iron deficiency anemia which does not get better with treatment

The symptoms caused by autoimmune gastritis are mainly due to the presence of vitamin B12 deficiency. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Weakness, lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Chest pain, palpitations and ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

In case the vitamin B12 deficiency has caused nerve damage, it can also cause symptoms like:

  • Mental changes
  • Numbness and tingling in the limbs
  • Unsteady walking

When to See a Doctor

Indigestion and irritation in the stomach is very common and everyone experiences it sometime. However, if the symptoms mentioned above are persistent for more than a week, you should consult a doctor. For very short term indigestion you need not do this. In case the symptoms occur or aggravate after taking OTC or prescription medicines like aspirin, you should inform the doctor.

When there is blood in the stools or your stools are black in color and you are also vomiting blood, it is important to consult a doctor immediately.

What Are the Causes & Risk Factors of Atrophic Gastritis?

The cause for type A atrophic gastritis is the antibodies produced by the body to attack the stomach cells which produce acid. The intrinsic factor produced by the stomach cells is also attacked by the antibodies, resulting in pernicious anemia. Since intrinsic factor is responsible for absorbing vitamin B12, lack of vitamin B12 causes inability to produce adequate red blood cells. The diagnosis of the condition usually happens later in life.

Type B atrophic gastritis is common with infection caused by H. pylori, which usually occurs during childhood and slowly progresses with age if it remains untreated. The infection transmits from person to person through contact with feces, vomit and saliva of an infected person. It can also get transmitted if there is contact with contaminated food or water.

Risk Factors

Atrophic gastritis is common in poverty and overcrowded areas, as H. pylori infection is associated with these areas. In addition, Hispanic and Asian people are at more risk of developing the condition.

Although type A atrophic gastritis is quite rare, the risk for people of African American or North European origin is relatively higher. Also people with thyroid disorders and diabetes are at increased risk.

What Are the Treatments for Atrophic Gastritis?

Although atrophic gastritis cannot be cured, the symptoms can be controlled by medications like antacids, proton pump inhibitors and histamine-2 blockers. Since developing vitamin B12 deficiency is inevitable, patients will be given injections of vitamin B12 under the instruction from doctors.

How to Prevent Atrophic Gastritis

Prevention of atrophic gastritis is difficult; however, spread of H. pylori infection can be controlled by good hygiene. Washing hands after using the bathroom, prior to handling food should be practiced. Parents should teach children good hygiene, and when dealing with babies, should ensure they wash up after handling soiled diapers and linens.

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