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What are gastritis and duodenitis?

Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining. Duodenitis is inflammation of the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine), which is located just below your stomach. Both gastritis and duodenitis have the same causes and treatments.

Both conditions may occur in men and women of all ages. The conditions may be acute or chronic. The acute forms come on suddenly and last for a short time. The chronic forms may progress slowly and last for months or years. The conditions are often curable and generally don’t cause any long-term complications.

What causes gastritis and duodenitis?

The most common cause of gastritis and duodenitis is a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). Large amounts of the bacteria invading your stomach or small intestine can cause inflammation.

H. pylori may be transferred from person to person, but exactly how is unclear. It’s believed to be spread through contaminated food and water, although this is less common in the United States. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, approximately 20 to 50 percent of people in the United States may be infected with H. pylori. In comparison, up to 80 percent of people in developing countries are infected with the bacteria.

Other common causes of gastritis and duodenitis include the long-term use of certain medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, or drinking too much alcohol.

Less common causes include:

Gastritis, duodenitis, and inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the chronic inflammation of part or all of the digestive tract. The exact cause is unknown, but doctors believe that IBD may be the result of an immune disorder. A combination of factors from the environment and a person’s genetic makeup also appear to play a role. Examples of IBD include ulcerative colitis (inflammation of the colon and rectum) and Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease may affect any part of the digestive tract and often spreads beyond the intestinal lining and into other tissues.

A study published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases reported that people with inflammatory bowel disease are much more likely to develop a form of gastritis or duodenitis that isn’t caused by H. pylori than people who don’t have the disease.

What are the symptoms of gastritis and duodenitis?

Gastritis and duodenitis don’t always produce signs or symptoms. When they do, common symptoms include:

In some cases, feces may appear black in color and vomit may look like used coffee grounds. These symptoms can indicate internal bleeding. Call your doctor right away if you experience either of these symptoms.

How are gastritis and duodenitis diagnosed?

There are several tests your doctor can use to diagnose gastritis and duodenitis. H. pylori can often be detected through blood, stool, or breath tests. For a breath test, you will be instructed to drink a clear, tasteless liquid and then breathe into a bag. This will help your doctor detect any extra carbon dioxide gas in your breath if you’re infected with H. pylori.

Your doctor may also perform an upper endoscopy with biopsy. During this procedure, a small camera attached to a long, thin, flexible tube (an endoscope) is moved down the throat to look into the stomach and small intestine. This test will allow your doctor to check for inflammation, bleeding, and any abnormally appearing tissue. Your doctor may take a few small tissue samples for further testing to assist in the diagnosis.

How are gastritis and duodenitis treated?

The type of treatment recommended will depend on the cause of your condition. How quickly the problem resolves depends on the severity of your gastritis or duodenitis. Gastritis and duodenitis often clear up without complications, especially when they’re caused by medications or lifestyle choices.


If H. pylori is the cause, these infections are treated with antibiotics. Your doctor may recommend a combination of drugs to kill the infection, and most people will need to take antibiotics for two weeks or longer.

Acid reducers

Reducing acid production in the stomach is an important step in treatment. Over-the-counter acid blockers (drugs that work to reduce the amount of acid released into your digestive tract) may be recommended. These include:

Proton pump inhibitors (drugs that block cells that produce acid) are most often needed to treat these conditions. They may also need to be taken long term. Some of these include:


For temporary relief of your symptoms, your doctor may suggest antacids to neutralize stomach acid and relieve pain. These are over-the-counter medications and don’t need to be prescribed. Antacid options include:

Antacids can prevent your body from absorbing other medications, so it is recommended that you take antacids at least an hour before other medications to avoid this side effect. However, antacids are recommended for occasional use only. If you are having symptoms of heartburn, indigestion, or gastritis more than twice a week for more than two weeks, see your doctor. You will require a proper diagnosis, along with other medications to treat your condition.

Lifestyle changes

Smoking, regularly using alcohol, and taking medications (such as aspirin and NSAIDs) increases inflammation of the digestive track. Both smoking and heavy alcohol use (more than five drinks per day) also increase the risk of stomach cancer. Completely quitting smoking and drinking alcohol is often recommended. Stopping the use of pain relievers such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen may also be necessary if those medications are the cause.

When should you call your doctor?

Make an appointment with your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away within two weeks of treatment. Call your doctor immediately if:

  • you have a fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • your vomit looks like used coffee grounds
  • your feces are black or tarry
  • you have severe abdominal pain

Untreated cases of gastritis and duodenitis can become chronic. This can lead to stomach ulcers and stomach bleeding. In some cases, chronic inflammation of the stomach lining can change the cells over time and increase your risk of developing stomach cancer.

Talk to your doctor if your gastritis or duodenitis symptoms occur more than twice a week, so that the cause can be determined and you can get the treatment you need.

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Written by: Rose Kivi and Brian Wuon: Sep 12, 2017

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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