The Difference Between Gastritis and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Written By Kobi Nathan, Pharm.D., M.Ed., CDP, BCGP, AGSF
Sleep Disorders
June 19, 2022

Gastritis is a condition that results from inflammation of the stomach lining and the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine.

It can occur suddenly (acute gastritis) or slowly over time (chronic gastritis). Gastritis symptoms include pain and discomfort in the upper stomach, bloating, and nausea. It is caused by various factors, including infection, bad food choices, and genetics.

GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a serious condition that results when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus.

GERD symptoms include heartburn (pain in the chest), regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, and weight loss.

GERD can also lead to severe problems such as Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.

Causes of gastritis: What leads to the development of gastritis?

Gastritis is inflammation of the lining of the stomach (also known as the gastric mucosa). It can be caused by several things, including infection, medication, and diet.

These things can damage or weaken the stomach’s protective lining, resulting in inflammation and the development of gastritis.

The most common cause of gastritis is infection with a type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).

This bacterium can cause inflammation and ulcers in the stomach. Other causes of gastritis include using NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, and drinking alcohol.

Gastritis may also be caused by a reaction to food (high acidity or spicy foods) or a parasite.

What are the signs and symptoms of Gastritis?

It is important to note that many people with gastritis do not have any symptoms. Those individuals who do have gastritis symptoms may experience the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Peptic ulcers, also known as gastric ulcers (symptom is a burning or constant pain in the center of your belly)
  • Unusual feeling of extra fullness after a meal
  • Vomiting up blood
  • Unexplained or unplanned weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Bloating (feeling of painful tightness, fullness in the belly)
  • Black, tarry stools (indicative of bleeding in the upper digestive tract)

The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person and may come and go over time.

If you are experiencing any common symptoms of gastritis, it is essential to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Treatments in severe cases may include dietary changes, medications, or surgery. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in preventing more severe complications.

How is gastritis diagnosed?

Diagnosis of gastritis includes a physical exam, blood tests, and a biopsy.

Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and history. They may also order any of the following tests to help them confirm the medical condition:

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC): A blood test to check for anemia and antibodies that your body makes to fight an H. pylori infection. If you are bleeding in your stomach because of gastritis, you could have a reduced red blood cell count, causing you to be anemic
  • H. pylori breath test: You will blow into a bag after swallowing a harmless radioactive liquid or capsule, and the carbon dioxide level in your exhaled breath is measured. Any H. pylori bacteria will convert the radioactive substance you swallowed into carbon dioxide. So, any abnormal increase in carbon dioxide is indicative of an active H. pylori infection
  • Fecal occult blood tests (stool tests): This checks for the presence of H. pylori bacteria in your poop
  • Upper endoscopy: Your gastroenterologist uses a long, flexible tube with a high-resolution camera at the end to visually inspect your upper digestive system and your stomach lining. During this procedure, you are placed under general anesthesia. Your doctor may also take a small tissue sample (biopsy samples) to do further tests
  • Upper GI X-ray: In this procedure, you will be asked to swallow a barium liquid (called a barium swallow), which “lights up” the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of your small intestine (duodenum), making them more visible for your doctor to view on an X-ray

How is gastritis treated?

If your doctor suspects you have gastritis based on your symptoms and test results, they may recommend treatment options.

Treatment for gastritis depends on the cause of the inflammation and may include changes in diet, medications, or surgery.

Depending on the cause of gastritis, different treatments will be recommended.

For example, if gastritis is caused by an H. Pylori bacterial infection, a particular series of antibiotic therapy will be prescribed by your doctor.

At least two different antibiotics must be taken, in addition to a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), which helps the lining of your stomach heal by reducing acid that may irritate it. An infection caused by H. Pylori must be eradicated as quickly as possible.

This is because this bacteria is the strongest known risk factor for gastric cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide.

If the cause is unknown or not treatable, medications may be prescribed to help relieve symptoms and improve digestion.

Surgery may also be recommended for some people with gastritis.

Your healthcare provider may also prescribe or recommend the following treatment options:

  • Antacids: These can be purchased over-the-counter, typically calcium carbonate tablets, chewable tablets, or oral liquid suspensions. Examples are Rolaids® and Tums®
  • H2 blockers: These medications decrease the amount of acid in your stomach. Commonly used over-the-counter medications are Pepcid® (famotidine) and Tagamet® (cimetidine)
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): The strongest medications to reduce stomach acid because they stop acid production at the source. Examples are Prilosec® (omeprazole) and Nexium® (esomeprazole)
  • Vitamin B12, if you have pernicious anemia due to gastritis

Important note: NEVER start treatment for gastritis or stop taking medication based on what you have read in this article or elsewhere.

Always talk to your medical provider first. They are the professionals with the training and experience to diagnose you and properly prescribe the appropriate treatment.

What are the complications of untreated gastritis?

If you suspect you may have gastritis, you must see your medical provider to get evaluated as quickly as possible and receive the appropriate treatment.

If left untreated, gastritis can lead to erosion of the stomach lining (erosive gastritis), peptic ulcer disease (stomach ulcers), bleeding, and anemia. Chronic gastritis can increase the risk of stomach cancer.

What leads to the development of GERD?

GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a common digestive disorder affecting millions of Americans.

It is caused by the backflow of stomach acid and other contents into the esophagus. This condition can cause significant pain and discomfort.

What leads to the development of GERD is not fully understood, but several factors are believed to play a role.

One of the most common causes of GERD is obesity. People who are obese are more likely to have excess fatty tissue in the stomach, which can lead to problems with digestion and increase the risk of developing GERD.

Another common cause of GERD is smoking. Cigarette smoke can weaken the muscles in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach acid to back up into the esophagus.

Pregnancy is also a common cause of GERD, as hormones can relax the LES and increase pressure on the stomach. A hiatal hernia can also cause GERD.

What are the signs and symptoms of GERD?

The most common signs and symptoms of GERD include heartburn or chest pain, acid reflux, hoarseness, a dry, persistent cough, and a feeling of a “lump” in your throat. Other symptoms can include regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, and a sour taste in the mouth.

Treatment for GERD: How is GERD treated?

GERD can often be treated with diet and lifestyle changes and over-the-counter and prescription medications. In some extreme cases, however, surgery may be required. Medical management of GERD is similar to that of gastritis and includes:

  • Antacids
  • Histamine (H2) blockers
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)

I write extensively about GERD and its causes, diagnosis, and medication management here.

When should you call the doctor?

You should call your doctor if you experience the following:

  • Gastritis that keeps coming back
  • If you experience sudden, severe pain in your belly
  • If you feel sick and have a fever
  • Unplanned or unexplained weight loss
  • You feel very weak or tired all the time
  • If you vomit up blood
  • If you cannot keep any water or food down
  • If you see blood in your stool (especially black, tarry stool, as it indicated bleeding in the upper GI tract)

Conclusion: Is one more severe than the other?

If left untreated, both gastritis and GERD can cause significant harm, pain, and significant loss of quality of life to the individual. And both conditions can cause death through stomach cancer.

If you are experiencing symptoms, talk to your doctor. These problems should not be ignored and can result in more serious health problems if left untreated.

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