Gastritis, a common digestive problem in which the lining of your stomach becomes swollen (inflamed), can cause a number of discomforts – though sometimes it can also be asymptomatic. The most common symptom is stomach pain. What does it feel like and where is it usually felt?
In the stomach, swallowed food is processed with gastric juices that contain hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. But sometimes this acid could be counterproductive, especially when you have gastritis.
Uncontrolled, high levels of acid in the stomach can worsen gastritis pain and make the condition take longer to heal. Therefore, one of treatment goals for gastritis is to improve and heal the inflammation by controlling or reducing that acid. Treatment options may include:
- Acid-suppressing medications – the main ones are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and ranitidine (H2 blocker).
- Since those acid-suppressing medications don’t start to work right away, you may need antacids. Antacids can provide quick gastritis-pain relief.
- Antibiotics (if the cause of the disease is bacterial infection, such as H-pylori infection).
Lifestyle approaches such as a few changes in diet may also help. For examples, there are some irritating foods that might worsen the symptoms and inhibit your healing. These foods vary, but the most common ones are foods high in acidic, fatty, spicy, and processed foods – see more what to avoid and what is OK in gastritis diet here!
Gastritis pain can flare up during or /and after eating. Sometimes certain foods make it worse. It may improve with antacids, but it usually will come and go until the inflammation of your stomach lining heals completely.
The good news, the pain is mild in most cases – though sometimes it may wake you from sleep at night. It may also be followed with some of the following other gastritis symptoms:
- Feeling of fullness. It’s usually easy to get ‘full’, even after a smaller meal.
- Nausea (feeling sick), which may be followed with vomiting.
- Excess wind or abdominal bloating.
- Decreased appetite.
You may also have anemia symptoms, such as; fatigue (tiredness) and pale skin. Anemia is a condition when the amounts of your red blood cells drop (lower than normal). It can occur if your gastritis causes bleeding.
People with gastritis might also experience back pain. Though back pain is not specific symptom of the condition, sometimes gastritis pain could be painful enough to radiate elsewhere in the body, such as the back.
What else to understand?
But don’t assume that stomach pain is always caused by gastritis, because it can be caused by a wide range of factors and medical conditions.
For examples, the following conditions can also cause stomach pain similar to gastritis:
- Inflammation of the gallbladder (Cholecystitis). The gallbladder is responsible to hold bile (a digestive fluid to help small intestine). If it gets swollen, you can have severe pain in your upper abdomen. The pain usually flares up after eating a large, fatty meal.
- Gallstones are abnormal, hardened deposits of bile. Besides abdominal pain, they can also cause shoulder pain (in the right shoulder), back pain (especially between the shoulder blades), nausea, and vomiting.
- A stomach ulcer, an open sore that forms in the lining of your stomach. This ulcer pain can also be felt in the upper stomach. Typically, it’s more likely to get worse with empty stomach (between meals, when your stomach acid levels increase higher). And chronic gastritis can increase the risk of stomach ulcer.
- Crohn’s disease. It is a disorder that causes chronic inflammation of digestive tract. The last parts of the colon and small intestine are the most common areas affected by this inflammatory bowel disease. The symptoms vary, which can range from mild to severe. The common ones are decreased appetite, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, mouth sores, stomach pain and cramping.
- Another common culprit for upper abdominal pain is inflammation in your pancreas, a flat-long gland located behind your stomach. This condition is called pancreatitis. It can occur suddenly (acute) or develop over many years (chronic). The pain is usually accompanied by other common symptoms of the disease, such as; abdominal tenderness (more sensitive to touch), rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting, unintentional weight loss, and steatorrhea (smelly, oily stools).
To make sure that gastritis is the main culprit of your stomach pain, see a doctor! There is usually no special test to diagnose mild gastritis. Many times, doctors are able to make a diagnosis of the condition by performing a physical exam and taking your medical history.
But if your pain and other symptoms don’t improve or even get worse, your doctor can arrange a number of tests. In such case, you may need to have some of the following tests to confirm the exact cause of your problem:
- Blood tests. They can reveal whether or not you have anemia. They may also help detect H-pylori infection.
- Sometimes blood tests are not accurate enough to identify H-pylori infection. Therefore, other tests such as a breath test or a stool test may be required.
- Endoscopy, a procedure to look inside your abdomen by inserting a flexible, thin telescope down through the esophagus. It can help find any inflammation or other signs of abnormality in your stomach.
- And if necessary, biopsy – a procedure in which a few small samples of your stomach lining are removed so your doctor can observe them more clearly at under the microscope.