Gastritis and Alcohol

Posted under Alcoholism on July 7, 2011
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Gastritis is a fairly generic term and refers to an inflammation or swelling of the stomach lining. Unless treated, gastritis can lead to bleeding in the stomach, the development of stomach ulcers, and even stomach cancer.

Gastritis can be caused by a number of things, including ingesting medicines like aspirin, the presence of Helicobacter pylori bacteria, or thinning of the stomach lining due to advanced age or a weakened immune system.

In some patients, gastritis has been linked to the consumption of alcohol; in most of these cases, the consumption will be excessive. Alcoholics often develop gastritis, as the constant presence of alcohol in the stomach will irritate the lining and provide no opportunity for healing. The symptoms of alcohol-related gastritis include pain or burning in the upper abdominal region, diarrhea, nausea and/or vomiting, excessive belching that does not relieve the stomach pain, loss of appetite, bloat, and a funny taste in the mouth.

Alcohol affects the entire gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach, intestines, and pancreas. The walls of the stomach are lined with muscles, which churn food into small pieces. At the same time, stomach glands produce and emit gastric enzymes and acids, which aid in further breaking down the food into a state that will allow it to be absorbed through the stomach lining into the blood stream. Hydrochloric acid is one of the substances produced by the stomach and would eat through the muscle if the stomach were not protected by its mucous lining. When there is not enough mucous to counteract the acid, however, the stomach lining becomes inflamed and gastritis can result. Alcohol interferes with the mucus lining, leaving the stomach unprotected against the corrosive acids.

Although gastritis is typically diagnosed after a complete blood count (CBC), endoscopy, bacteria test, or stool check, many physicians can properly diagnose alcohol-related gastritis simply by listening to a patient’s history of prolonged alcohol use.

Short-term treatment for gastritis can be found in many over-the-counter medicines such as antacids, H2 antagonists (Pepsid, Zantac), and proton pump inhibitors (Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid). Those with gastritis will also tend to avoid hot and spicy foods.

The good news is that alcohol-related gastritis should clear up once the person stops drinking. However, failure to stop drinking in the face of gastritis will likely mean continuous abdominal pain and bloat and the development of ulcers or stomach cancer.

Stomach ulcers are open sores on the stomach lining that produce intense pain, especially at night or when the stomach is empty. Most ulcers will heal and then reoccur. If left untreated, these stomach ulcers can start to bleed, especially if the ulcer has eroded the gastroduodenal artery. An ulcer that erodes and perforates the stomach wall may case the contents of the stomach to leak into the abdominal cavity, leading to peritonitis or pancreatisis. If the ulcer continues to grow, it can affect adjacent organs, like the liver and pancreas. Although ulcers can certainly be deadly if left untreated, the potential for stomach cancer is the scariest ramification of prolonged alcohol-induced gastritis.