Acid Reflux & Gastritis

Acid reflux is when stomach acid or bile flows back up into the esophagus, which can irritate the esophageal lining. Signs and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, include both acid reflux and heartburn and may also include chest pain and difficulty swallowing. Gastritis involves a group of conditions that cause inflammation of the stomach lining. Symptoms of gastritis are similar to the symptoms of GERD in which there is a burning pain or indigestion. Additional signs and symptoms of gastritis may also include nausea, vomiting, belching and loss of appetite.

The midriff of a person eating and drinking at a table. Credit: psphotograph/iStock/Getty Images

Causes

GERD is caused by frequent acid reflux or the backup of stomach acid or bile into the esophagus. The constant backwash of acid can irritate the lining of the esophagus, causing it to become inflamed. Obesity, hiatal hernias, pregnancy, smoking, asthma, diabetes, delayed stomach emptying and connective tissue disorders can all contribute to GERD. Gastritis occurs when the stomach's protective layer becomes weakened or damaged by stomach acids. A number of conditions can contribute to gastritis, including bacterial infection, regular usage of pain relievers, excessive alcohol consumption, stress, bile reflux disease or other diseases.

Diagnosis

Typically acid reflux or GERD is suspected with heartburn. To confirm a diagnosis, medications can be prescribed, and if they are effective in treating the heartburn a diagnosis of GERD is considered confirmed. An endoscopy is also a common way of diagnosing both GERD and gastritis. Other tests such as biopsies of the esophagus, x-ray, examining the throat and larynx and esophageal acid testing and motility studies can also be completed if GERD is suspected. Gastritis can also be diagnosed with a biopsy, upper GI series, blood or stool tests, or testing for the infection, H. pylori.

Complications

A common complication of acid reflux or GERD is ulcers which may bleed and require a blood transfusion. Strictures, Barrett's esophagus, cough, asthma, inflammation and fluid in the sinuses and middle ears are also potential complications. Left untreated, gastritis can also lead to stomach ulcers or bleeding, which may also lead to the need for a blood transfusion.

Drug Therapy

Treatment of heartburn, reflux or gastritis usually begins with over-the-counter medications that help control or neutralize acid, such as antacids, histamin 2 or H-2 receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors or PPIs. Prescription strength H-2 blockers and PPIs may also be prescribed. If H. pylori infection is responsible for the symptoms of gastritis, a common treatment may involve a combination of a PPI and two antibiotics.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

Lifestyle changes can help reduce heartburn and can help maintain a healthy digestive system. Maintaining a healthy weight can help alleviate acid reflux caused by pressure on the abdomen and can also help decrease bloating and constipation. Good eating habits can also help avoid weight gain. Avoiding common foods that can lead to heartburn is also helpful. These foods may include fried foods, alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion and caffeine. Remaining upright for at least two to three hours after eating can help manage symptoms. Avoid smoking, manage stress and get plenty of exercise to help control symptoms as well.

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