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Stomach lining - Function & Treatment of gastritis

Woman suffering from irritable bowel syndrome sits on a bed, holding her stomach in pain.

Stomach lining - Its function and what to do when it is irritated?

If it works as good as it should, we do not feel it at all. It simply and quietly does its job. Only when the stomach lining is irritated or attacked does it become noticeable. And truly: It causes severe pain and many other, unpleasant complaints. Then the gastric mucosa is no longer able to perform its usual duties.

This is what stomach lining does

The stomach lining completely covers the stomach. As a result, it can ideally fulfil two crucial tasks: Firstly, it is responsible for the production of gastric juice and all its components. On the other hand, it protects the stomach from the aggressive action of stomach acid with the mucus it produces. 

The stomach lining is therefore essential for digestion due to the acid production and thus for the supply of energy and nutrients to the whole body.  

Without proper mucus production, stomach pain or even ulcers may be the result. 

The gastric juice produced by the stomach lining causes further break-down of the food chyme and kills pathogens that have entered the body together with the food. In order to do this, the gastric juice must have a very low pH which means it is extremely acidic - a great burden on the stomach wall. As already mentioned, the gastric mucus, therefore, plays an important role. It surrounds the stomach lining as a protective layer that prevents direct contact with gastric acid.

Colourful spices in big sacks, displayed on a street market.

What irritates the stomach lining

The mucus produced by the gastric mucosa does not withstand every strain. Some factors can attack it so badly that the mucus production may be impaired and gastric acid may directly attack the stomach lining. These include: 

  • Infections with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori 
  • Stress 
  • Certain medications, for example, painkillers 
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol, nicotine or caffeine 
  • Hot spices 
  • A malfunctioning immune system 
  • Very acidic foods 

The result is stomach lining inflammation (gastritis). The symptoms of acute gastritis usually appear very suddenly. With the appropriate treatments - these include for example drugs that limit the production of stomach acid - it usually takes only a few days, but sometimes up to several weeks to ease the symptoms. An irritation of the gastric mucosa can also become chronic. The initial stages often run very inconspicuously, and the disease can last for several years until subsequent symptoms or outcomes such as anaemia or even ulcers show

Gastritis restricts the absorption of vitamin B12 in the intestine – and this vitamin can no longer fulfil its important role in the formation of blood.

Diagnosing gastritis

In order to safely diagnose gastritis, a detailed anamnesis interview is necessary, in which the patient explains their symptoms, describes their lifestyle (smoking, alcohol, stress) and provides information about the medication they are taking. A physical check-up follows. If the upper abdomen hurts during palpation this is one of the first indications of gastritis. In addition, the physician will perform an ultrasound examination (sonography) of the upper abdomen to rule out other possible causes. This examination is painless and radiation-free.  

The diagnosis can only be confirmed by a gastroscopy, in which a tissue sample (biopsy) is taken from the gastric mucosa and examined for cell changes and infections (especially with the specific bacterium Helicobacter pylori).  

Even if an infection with Helicobacter pylori is suspected, a gastroscopy with a biopsy should be performed to confirm the diagnosis. A breath test, which is highly likely to detect the pathogen in exhaled air, is usually used as control after treatment for a Helicobacter infection. A stool examination can also be used for this purpose. Type B gastritis can, however, unfortunately not be detected by the test.

A man dressed in white t-shirt, seen only from hip to shoulder, suffering from stomach pain.

Different forms of gastritis

Most often people suffer from acute gastritis, which can have a multitude of different causes, for example:  

  • Infection with bacteria, viruses or fungi   
  • Frequent or high dose intake of stomach irritant medications 
  • Excessive alcohol consumption 
  • Nicotine consumption 
  • Heavy consumption of stomach-irritating foods, e.g. coffee or hot spices 
  • Radiotherapy 
  • Ingestion of acids or alkalis 
  • Psychological stress 
  • Physical stress, e.g. long-term respiration, circulatory shock, craniocerebral trauma, burns 
  • Competitive sport (Runner's Stomach) 

There are also several forms of chronic gastritis. Type A (Autoimmune gastritis) gastritis is a rare hereditary autoimmune disease. What this rare form of gastritis results from is still largely unknown. Scientists suspect that the immune system does not function properly and attacks the body's own gastric mucosa, gradually destroying it.  

Type B (bacterial) is much more common than Type A: This type of gastritis is caused by infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. The bacterium spreads by smear infections, meaning from person to person, for example when shaking hands or over contaminated objects. Other bacteria can also cause type B gastritis, but this is often not the case. Type B gastritis usually affects the area around the end of the stomach, the antrum, and is therefore also referred to as antral gastritis. 

Type C gastritis, also known as chemical-toxic gastritis, occurs in people who frequently ingest stomach irritants. Certain pain or rheumatism medicines can cause long-term damage to the stomach. These include ibuprofen, acetylsalicylic acid and diclofenac. Those who take such medications regularly should pay close attention to the package leaflet or better still consult a physician. They often can prescribe a parallel therapy to protect the stomach lining. 

In addition to these three forms of gastritis, there are other rare manifestations such as ménétrier gastritis. This is a gastric disease that is associated with an enlargement of the mucosal folds of the stomach and is therefore also called giant fold gastritis. The exact cause is still unknown.  

The rather uncommon type D gastritis also has different triggers, for example, chronic inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease, also known as Crohn’s gastritis.

Woman suffering from irritable bowel syndrome lies on a sofa and holds her stomach, in pain.

Gastritis – symptoms and treatment

Those who suffer from gastritis have very uncomfortable symptoms. Symptoms that can occur with gastritis include: 

  • Severe stomach pain
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Pressure sensitivity 
  • Flatulence 
  • Acidic belching 

If these symptoms appear in combination or persist for several weeks you should not hesitate and go see your primary care physician. They can examine you closely and properly classify and treat your symptoms. Suitable drug treatment is particularly important in the case of gastritis - the long-term consequences are not to be underestimated. A severe course of gastritis may be accompanied by dangerous bleeding or promote the development of a gastric ulcer. In the worst case gastritis causes the development of gastric cancer. 

The treatment aims to improve the inflammation and alleviate the associated symptoms. To neutralize the irritating acidity or to slow down their production, appropriate drugs are used. 

Especially recommended are those preparations which can target a range of symptoms at the same time. Iberogast® does just that in the context of functional gastrointestinal disorders and protects the gastric mucosa thanks to its unique formulation of nine medicinal herbs. Complaints and symptoms such as nausea and stomach pain (in the context of functional and motility-related gastrointestinal disorders), which may also be associated with an irritated stomach lining, can be effectively relieved in this way.

How long is the treatment for the most common gastritis?

Acute gastritis usually heals on its own in a few days, if you rest and eat stomach-friendly food in small portions. Also, avoid possible triggers, such as coffee, nicotine, alcohol and other stomach irritants. You can support a faster recovery with medication made from herbal ingredients such as Iberogast®. However, as mentioned above, you should consult a doctor if you experience severe pain and/or if the symptoms persist for a longer time.

How to support your gastritis treatment?

Gastritis is a condition in which the gastric mucosa is inflamed and impaired. Therefore, irritant foods may be problematic and increase symptoms. Until your inflammation improves, you may try to: 

  • eat slowly 
  • chew well  
  • avoid food that is too hot or too cold 
  • avoid dishes that are too sweet, too spicy or too salty  
  • recommended are 5 small meals 

If you have gastritis, it is recommended to go for easily digestible food. Try to avoid the following: 

  • fatty dairy products (such as cheese or cream) 
  • fatty, smoked and fried meats, as well as breaded meats, goose, duck and oily poultry skin 
  • fatty fish (eel, mackerel) and all smoked, pickled, in oil or in any other medium piquant / fat-rich marinades pickled fish or canned food 
  • fatty sauces like sauce hollandaise, béarnaise or mayonnaise 
  • fried foods (such as French fries or croquettes) 
  • sweets and cakes 
  • fresh bread and coarse wholemeal bread (better: at least 1 day matured finely ground wholemeal bread) 
  • Fresh vegetables (such as cabbage, onions or pulses) 

Also, avoid stimulants such as 

  • coffee or black tee  
  • alcohol  
  • nicotine  

The nutritional behaviour with gastritis differs only slightly from that of diarrhoea and other diseases of the digestive tract. During this time, it is recommended to eat nutritious, easily digestible food that does not unnecessarily further irritate the affected stomach lining. Especially suitable are rice, potatoes or mashed potatoes, preferably unseasoned and unsalted vegetables and similar foods that contain easily digestible nutrients and don’t overload the gastric mucosa with spices. Easily digestible vegetables are among others, steamed: 

  • fennel 
  • carrots 
  • kohlrabi 
  • green peas 
  • courgette 
  • tomatoes
A man suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, holds his stomach, in pain.

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Iberogast®

Disturbances in the gastrointestinal tract are usually not only extremely unpleasant and associated with numerous complaints, they often make a normal everyday life even harder. It’s good that there is Iberogast®: The combination of nine medicinal plants targets both the underlying causes and the annoying symptoms. 

All about Iberogast®

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