Our stomachs are responsible for digesting the food we eat, ensuring that we are able to take in the nutrients we need to live happy, healthy lives. However, a number of conditions can cause pain and discomfort in the stomach, and can even lead to a reduction in our quality of life. Gastritis – an inflammation of the stomach lining – can lead to a wide range of negative health outcomes.
What Is Gastritis?
Gastritis is not a single condition, but instead is a name for a collection of conditions and diseases that inflame the lining of the stomach. According to the Mayo Clinic,
"Gastritis is a general term for a group of conditions with one thing in common: inflammation of the lining of the stomach."
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC Health), defines it as,
"a term commonly used by the public (and sometimes by doctors) to describe episodes of stomach discomfort (usually after eating) sometimes associated with nausea and/or vomiting. However, strictly speaking, gastritis is a formal medical term for a diagnosis made by a pathologist when evidence of inflammation and damage to the stomach lining is seen in a biopsy specimen taking during an upper endoscopy."
Healthline further breaks things down by defining the different types of gastritis – acute, chronic and erosive.
"Acute gastritis involves sudden, severe inflammation. Chronic gastritis involves long-term inflammation that can last for years if it is left untreated. Erosive gastritis is a less common form of the condition. It typically doesn’t cause much inflammation, but can lead to bleeding and ulcers in the lining of the stomach."
What Causes Gastritis?
There are several different causes of gastritis, just as there are several different conditions collected under the same name. One of the most common causes is a thin or damaged stomach lining that allows digestive juices to inflame it. Another is the presence of Helicobacter pylori, the same bacterium responsible for causing stomach ulcers. It can be passed from person to person, as well as transmitted through food and drink.
In addition to those two causes, there are lifestyle factors that can affect the thickness of your stomach lining and make you more likely to suffer from gastritis. For instance, heavy alcohol consumption can cause gastritis, as can using cocaine or tobacco. Gastritis is more common in older patients because the stomach lining thins as the body ages. Taking too many over-the-counter pain medications (aspirin or ibuprofen) can also make it more likely you will develop gastritis.
What Are the Symptoms of Gastritis?
The symptoms of gastritis can vary from one sufferer to another, and also depending on the cause and severity of the condition. However, some of the most common include the following:
- Feeling full in your upper abdomen after eating
- Pain in your upper abdomen that changes with eating (better or worse)
- Gnawing or burning ache in your upper abdomen that changes with eating (better or worse)
Note that it is possible to suffer from gastritis without noticing painful symptoms.
How Is the Disease Treated?
Treatment for gastritis will depend on the underlying cause of the inflammation. For instance, if the condition is related to the presence of H. pylori, you will need to take a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria first.
If the condition is related to acid production, medications that reduce or block acid production may be necessary. Proton pump inhibitors and H-2 blockers fall into these two categories. Antacids can provide some relief in situations where gastritis is caused by stomach acids.
Lifestyle changes can also be used to help treat the condition. For instance, smaller portions and milder foods can help alleviate symptoms, as can avoiding alcohol and specific types of pain relievers.
How Might Stem Cell Therapy Help?
Stem cell research has been ongoing for several decades at this point, with a wide range of implications for diseases ranging from eczema to rheumatoid arthritis. Gastritis may also benefit from treatment with stem cells.
In a study published in the journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, the authors found that stem cells were able to heal gastric ulcers in mice. The authors noted that
"gastric stem cells isolated from young mice can be transplanted into sites of injury within the stomachs of older mice, and that this results in accelerated repair."
Another study, this one published in the journal Cytotechnology, noted,
"Intestinal stem cells are a promising cell source for small intestine diseases,"
and that stem cells will ultimately play a larger role in treating many gastrointestinal diseases.
While there are currently no FDA-approved stem cell treatments, whether for gastritis or any other disease, and any such treatments should be considered experimental, there is enormous promise here. This is particularly true for patients suffering from gastritis that is not helped by dietary or lifestyle changes, and particularly for those with erosive gastritis, the rarest type of the condition.
However, it should be noted that while many studies rely on the use of autologous stem cells, those sourced from the patient’s own body, allogeneic stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood and tissue are far more effective due to their higher energy levels and because they are immune system naïve.