What is Atrophic Gastritis?
Atrophic Gastritis is a gradually developing pathological condition in which the lining of the stomach gets inflamed for years. This inflammation is mostly caused by a bacterial infection. The offending bacterium in this case is H. pylori. This bacterium disturbs the barrier between the mucosal lining of the stomach and the acidic juices produced by the stomach to help with the process of digestion.
Due to the infection, there is gradual destruction of the cells in the lining of the stomach due to Atrophic Gastritis if it is not diagnosed and treated on time. Atrophic Gastritis can also occur due to an immune reaction in which the body’s defence mechanism accidentally attacks the healthy cells of the lining of the stomach destroying them. This condition is called as Autoimmune Atrophic Gastritis.
What Causes Atrophic Gastritis?
As stated, Atrophic Gastritis is mainly caused by a bacterial infection or as an autoimmune response in which the body’s defense mechanism attacks the healthy cells in the lining of the stomach causing Atrophic Gastritis. When Atrophic Gastritis is caused by a bacterial infection it is caused by the bacterium H. pylori. This infection usually occurs during childhood and gradually worsens with time if not treated.
Atrophic Gastritis is a contagious condition and can transmit from one individual to another through feces, vomit, or saliva of an infected individual. Eating contaminated food and drinking contaminated water can also result in the bacterium infiltrating the body and causing Atrophic Gastritis.
In cases of autoimmune Atrophic Gastritis, this develops when the body starts producing antibodies that attack the healthy cells of the lining of the stomach accidentally.
In some cases, the antibodies may also attack the intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is a protein released by cells which helps in the absorption of vitamin B12. If this intrinsic factor is affected by the antibodies then it may lead to a medical condition called pernicious anemia as the body is not able to make enough red blood cells required for normal functioning.
What are the Symptoms of Atrophic Gastritis?
There are many cases in which Atrophic Gastritis remains undiagnosed as they are relatively asymptomatic, although there are some common symptoms that an individual with Atrophic Gastritis will experience. These symptoms are:
- Episodes of stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gradual loss of appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
- Ulcers in the stomach
- Iron deficiency anemia.
In cases of autoimmune Atrophic Gastritis the symptoms experienced are:
- Persistent weakness
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
How is Atrophic Gastritis Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Atrophic Gastritis revolves around the symptoms experienced by the patient and certain investigative studies. To begin with, the physician will carefully inspect the stomach region looking for any signs of tenderness along that area. They may also look for signs for paleness or a rapid pulse which may be a sign of reduction in the levels of vitamin B12.
The next step towards diagnosis of Atrophic Gastritis is ordering blood test to look for:
- Levels of pepsinogen which will be depleted in cases of Atrophic Gastritis
- Gastrin levels, which is a hormone which stimulates the production of stomach acids which will be elevated in cases of Atrophic Gastritis
- Deficiency of vitamin B12 levels
- Antibodies that may attack the stomach cells and intrinsic factor
- In some cases a stomach biopsy may be performed to look for signs of an H. Pylori infection.
- The results of these tests will confirm the diagnosis of Atrophic Gastritis.
How is Atrophic Gastritis Treated?
In majority of the cases, there is a significant improvement of symptoms as soon as treatment is started for Atrophic Gastritis. The main aim of the treatment for Atrophic Gastritis is to eliminate the bacteria causing this condition. This is done by utilizing antibiotics. Medications may also be given to reduce production of stomach acids as this will allow the stomach lining to heal fast. B12 injections are recommended for those who suffer from autoimmune form of Atrophic Gastritis.