By definition, atrophic gastritis occurs when the stomach lining becomes inflamed over time as a result of bacterial infection caused by exposure to the H. pylori virus. Essentially, this bacteria is responsible for breaking down the protective layer of mucus that surrounds the stomach lining and compromising its barrier from the harmful acidic fluids that facilitate proper digestion. Once these fluids make direct contact with the stomach lining, it can become infected and extremely inflamed. If left untreated for too long, this infection can completely annihilate the healthy cells in your stomach lining. This type of bacterial infection typically begins during childhood and can gradually worsen as people get older.
What are the types of atrophic gastritis?
There are two main types of atrophic gastritis:
Type A atrophic gastritis (Autoimmune atrophic gastritis):
People who suffer from various autoimmune disorders may also be susceptible to atrophic gastritis. Antibodies, which are created by the immune system with the intent of attacking and destroying destructive foreign viruses in the body, mistakenly attack healthy cells that are produced by the body naturally to promote normal functions. This includes the cells that include the stomach’s intrinsic factor, which is primarily responsible for absorbing and processing vitamin B-12.
Type B atrophic gastritis:
This is a multifocal type of atrophic gastritis that has a number of causes, the main one being the introduction of the H. pylori virus into the system. This virus attacks and weakens the mucus that surrounds the stomach lining, which exposes it to the harmful effects of the acidic juices that are produced by certain foods. Environmental factors such as a poor diet that lacks proper nutritional value and poor hygienic practices can also contribute to contracting the H. pylori virus and developing type B atrophic gastritis.
Atrophic gastritis causes and related complications
As mentioned, atrophic gastritis typically begins during childhood when a person is initially infected by the H. pylori virus. If they develop an autoimmune disorder, it can take many years for symptoms to become apparent, if at all. The onset of autoimmune atrophic gastritis occurs as a result of the immune system actively instructing antibodies to attack all healthy cells in the body. These antibodies are produced by the immune system with the primary purpose of identifying and destroying potentially harmful foreign substances, cells, and viruses in the body.
In cases of autoimmune disorders specifically, the antibodies begin attacking healthy cells in the stomach, which can cause the lining to become extremely inflamed. Additionally, these antibodies also attack your stomach’s intrinsic factor, which is a naturally occurring protein that helps with the absorption and processing of vitamin B-12.
As a result, you could develop a vitamin B12 deficiency and pernicious anemia due to a severely diminished red blood cell count and your body’s inability to produce sufficient red blood cells to support normal functions. Chronic inflammation in the stomach weakens the body’s ability to process a variety of vitamins and nutrients. As a worst-case scenario, this can also have a negative impact on your body’s ability to prevent and protect itself against serious diseases, most notably cancer.
Prevalence of atrophic gastritis
The exact prevalence of atrophic gastritis isn’t known because many potential cases of the disease go undiagnosed due to the fact that it’s asymptomatic or the symptoms are typically difficult to identify. The fact is that many of the symptoms attributed to atrophic gastritis also correspond to a number of other physical ailments. It could take many years for a person to even develop atrophic gastritis as it usually begins during childhood and is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed until adulthood.
The H. pylori virus, which is known for causing most cases of atrophic gastritis, infects approximately 20 percent of people under the age of 40 in the United States alone and 50 percent of the population of people over the age of 60. This type of infection is most common among specific cultural groups including people of Asian, African American, and Hispanic descent. It’s most prevalent throughout Asia, however, it’s estimated that about 50 percent of the world’s population is currently infected with the H. pylori virus. People in developing counties are at the highest risk of developing and succumbing to this disease due to poor living conditions.
What are the signs and symptoms of atrophic gastritis?
For the most part, atrophic gastritis is asymptomatic, which means that a person could be infected with the H. pylori virus all their lives without exhibiting any symptoms until much later in life. Or, they could be non-symptomatic carriers of the virus and easily spread it to others through contaminated food, saliva, and other bodily fluids. The different types of atrophic gastritis also come with their own unique set of symptoms.
The following is a list of type A atrophic gastritis symptoms:
- Intense chest pains
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- Heart palpitations
- Ringing in the ears known as tinnitus
- Physical weakness
- B12 deficiency, which comes with its own unique list of symptoms and consequences
Type B atrophic gastritis usually exhibits the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Developing stomach ulcers
- Reduced or complete loss of appetite
- Significant unplanned weight loss due to lack of appetite
- Intense stomach pains
- Iron deficiency as a result of pernicious anemia (reduced red blood cell count and inability to produce new red blood cells)
Diagnosis and treatment of atrophic gastritis
Accurate atrophic gastritis diagnosis typically involves a series of clinical tests, observations, and sometimes extensive blood work. Scheduling regular physical examinations is essential for early detection and prevention of atrophic gastritis from progressing into other more life-threatening diseases.
These tests are designed to determine your pepsinogen and gastrin levels. Pepsinogen levels are typically extremely low in people suffering from atrophic gastritis, whereas gastrin levels are typically dangerously and deceptively high as this hormone promotes the production of stomach acids. They also help to determine whether or not you may have a vitamin B-12 deficiency. Through regular visits, your doctor can also determine whether you have an autoimmune disorder that’s causing your immune system to attack healthy cells throughout your body including those that comprise your stomach lining.
As uncomfortable as this is, in some cases, a stomach biopsy might also prove to be necessary and more helpful in accurately identifying atrophic gastritis symptoms. During this procedure, your doctor will insert an endoscope (a thin, long metal instrument with a small flashlight attached) into your throat and descend it down to your stomach. From this point on, they’ll extract a small tissue sample from your stomach lining for further and more detailed examination to determine whether or not there are any signs of possible atrophic gastritis. This sample tissue from your stomach can also exhibit clear signs of an H. pylori viral infection.
Throughout these various examinations, your doctor will feel around specific parts of your belly to test for unusual tenderness and detect signs of possible B-12 deficiency like neurological issues, uncharacteristic paleness, and a racing pulse.
Antibiotics are the most effective type A atrophic gastritis treatment method because they help to fight off and completely obliterate the H. pylori virus that causes it. Certain anti-inflammatory medications can also be prescribed to reduce internal stomach inflammation and control the production of acids within the stomach that help with food digestion. For people who have mild or severe vitamin B-12 deficiencies as a result of this virus, regular B-12 injections may also be necessary, especially if the person suffers from autoimmune atrophic gastritis.
Recommended diet for atrophic gastritis patients
As is usually the case with any chronic illness, there are certain foods that are perfectly acceptable and even beneficial to consume and others that you should probably avoid like the plague if you suffer from either type A or type B atrophic gastritis.
Here’s a list of foods to eliminate from your diet:
- Spicy foods
- Any acidic foods (tomatoes, citrus fruit, etc.)
- High-fat foods
- Fried foods
- Fruit juices (natural and concentrated)
- Carbonated drinks such as sparkling water or sodas
- Allergenic or symptomatic foods
On the other hand, the best diet for atrophic gastritis should include the following foods in moderation:
- Foods that are good sources of fiber
- Low-fat foods
- Uncarbonated drinks like plain water
- Foods and drinks that contain low acidity levels
- Any drinks that don’t contain caffeine
- Foods that contain probiotics, as these can help cleanse your digestive tract and promote strong digestive functions
Before you make any drastic changes to your overall diet, however, you should always consult with your general physician and make sure that you follow a detailed dietary plan under their supervision and advisement.
Before you make any drastic changes to your overall diet, you should always consult with your general physician and make sure to follow a detailed dietary and exercise plan that they set out for you under their direct supervision and advisement. Check in periodically with your doctor so they can examine how these physical changes are affecting your overall health and whether you’re able to effectively manage and treat your atrophic gastritis.
Depending on the type of atrophic gastritis you have and how far it’s progressed, treatment may be immediately effective or it may take a significant amount of time for it to work. The bottom line is that if you experience any one or a combination of the abovementioned symptoms, you should contact your doctor right away.