Can Spicy Foods or Caffeine Cause Gastritis?

Gastritis is an uncomfortable condition that occurs when your stomach lining becomes red and swollen. Gastritis symptoms include an inflamed stomach lining that can be irritated by eating spicy foods and consuming acidic beverages. But the causes of gastritis are more complicated.

One of the symptoms of gastritis is an upset stomach. (Image: milorad kravic/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

There are some home remedies that can help you ease gastritis. Avoiding spicy foods, acidic foods and beverages, including coffee, and eating smaller, more frequent meals, may help you feel better. Spicy foods are only one of many potential causes of gastritis. It's best to visit your doctor for a plan of treatment.

Gastritis or Heartburn?

The stomach lining is quite strong, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. That's why most people can eat spicy foods without any problems. Even if you are diagnosed with gastritis, it's not necessarily food or caffeine that cause gastritis, Hopkins says.

If you are diagnosed with gastritis, however, eating these foods may irritate a stomach lining that is already compromised. But if you have an occasional bout of heartburn, you should be able to continue eating spicy foods and drinking coffee once your symptoms pass.

Most cases of stomach irritation don't last long, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your symptoms go away within a week, you shouldn't need any medical care. During this time, however, you might want to avoid spicy foods, acidic drinks like coffee, alcohol and other foods that can cause your stomach to feel more irritated.

If that occasional bout becomes more severe, however, that's when spicy foods and acidic beverages like coffee can become more of a problem. Drinking alcohol and smoking will also make gastritis worse.

Typical Gastritis Symptoms

Gastritis symptoms can sometimes resemble other health problems. It's always a good idea to see a doctor if you suspect you have gastritis. Some common symptoms, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, include:

  • Stomach upset or pain
  • Belching and hiccups
  • Belly or abdominal bleeding
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling of fullness or burning in your stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blood in your vomit or stool (a sign that your stomach lining may be bleeding)

If you have symptoms that last a week or more, it's best to see your doctor before you start on a course of treatment or try to treat yourself at home.

Many people with gastritis experience pain in the upper part of the abdomen, between the chest and hips, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. Not everyone has symptoms, however. And sometimes, gastritis is mistakenly thought to describe any pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen.

Causes of Gastritis

This inflammation of the stomach lining can be caused by many things. Spicy foods can be a cause, but there are a number of others, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Those include drinking excessive amounts of alcoholic beverages, smoking, excessive stress and long-term use of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen or naproxen. Drinking any acidic, caffeinated beverage, like coffee, may be something you want to avoid, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Another cause of gastritis could be an infection from the bacterial infection Helicobacter pylori, according to NIDDK. This infection is also commonly associated with ulcers, but can sometimes be the cause of an upper gastrointestinal disorder like gastritis.

Another culprit could be an autoimmune response, where the body's immune system attacks healthy cells in the stomach lining. Having Crohn's disease can sometimes trigger gastritis, according to NIDDK.

Causes of Reactive Gastritis

Reactive gastritis usually has an outside cause, like drinking too many alcoholic beverages over time. Using cocaine can erode the stomach lining, triggering gastritis. So can exposure to radiation, the NIDDK says.

People who've had parts of their stomach removed may experience reflux of bile into their stomach, which can erode the stomach lining. Having a traumatic injury, severe burns or major surgery in the abdomen region can also be a cause of this type of gastritis.

Reactive gastritis may be acute or chronic. While the stomach lining may erode, it may not be because of inflammation.

Ways to Diagnose Gastritis

If you are experiencing heartburn that lasts more than a week, it may be time to see a doctor. Some of the tests you may get if gastritis is suspected, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

  • A breath test to see if you have an infection. You'll need to drink a glass of liquid with radioactive carbon. Then you'll blow into a bag. If you have the infection, the sample will contain the radioactive carbon.
  • A gastroscopy or endoscopy. Your doctor will insert a flexible tube through your throat into your esophagus, stomach and small intestine. Your doctor may take tissue samples for a biopsy.
  • Barium swallow or X-ray. This will generate images of your upper digestive system to look for anything abnormal.

Treatments for Gastritis

Your gastritis treatment will depend upon your diagnosis. If you test positive for the bacterial infection Helicobacter pylori, you may get a triple therapy of antibiotics, says Harvard Health Publishing. Curing the infection, says the NIDDK, often cures the gastritis.

If the cause is smoking or drinking too much alcohol, you will need to treat the underlying cause, which in this case would mean quitting smoking or drinking alcoholic beverages.

You may consider taking medications to ease your symptoms, following your doctor's guidelines. Such medicines can include acid blockers, which reduce the amount of acid that's released into your digestive tract, which relieves gastritis pain and helps with healing. Zantac and Pepcid are two examples.

Or you may want to try a proton pump inhibitor like Prilosec, Prevacid or Nexium. You may also want to take antacids that will neutralize stomach acid.

Home Remedies for Gastritis

Along with avoiding alcoholic beverages and not smoking, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to ease gastritis. This doesn't mean strictly following a gastritis diet, but you can make some changes. Start with smaller, more frequent meals to ease the discomfort from stomach acid.

You may also want to avoid spicy foods, at least until your symptoms ease. Other foods that may irritate your stomach are acidic foods, fried foods and fatty foods. And if you have been taking a lot of pain relievers, consider switching to Tylenol or another acetaminophen. These are easier on your stomach than NSAIDs.

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