Gastritis is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that all share a common symptom of inflammation of the stomach lining. Gastritis can be chronic or acute, and for most people it is not serious and resolves quickly with treatment. Symptoms include a gnawing or burning pain or ache in the upper abdomen that may be either worse or better with eating, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, belching, bloating, a feeling of fullness in the upper abdomen after eating, and weight loss.
Acute gastritis happens suddenly and is more likely to cause nausea and burning pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. Chronic gastritis develops gradually and symptoms are usually a dull pain and a feeling of fullness or a loss of appetite after a small amount of food. In many people, chronic gastritis may cause no symptoms at all. In rare, severe cases, gastritis may cause stomach bleeding- requiring prompt medical care.
Gastritis is a result of the stomach’s protective layer becoming weak or damaged. The stomach has a mucus-lined barrier that protects it from the acids that help digest food. Weakness in the barrier exposes the stomach lining to damage and inflammation from digestive juices. This can result from a bacterial infection, regular use of pain relief medications, severe stress, alcohol intake, bile reflux disease (when bile flows up into the stomach), an auto-immune dysfunction, or it can be a result of different conditions or diseases. Treatment may involve addressing the underlying problem, such as stopping the use of substances which lead to gastritis or taking antibiotics if it is due to a bacterial infection, or taking medications to reduce or neutralize stomach acid.
In Chinese medicine (TCM), gastritis conditions are classified as stomach pain, which includes both gastritis and ulcers. Gastritis is a loose term that can apply to so many different conditions, and Chinese medicine does not rely on Western diagnosis for treatment, but rather looks closely at the specific symptoms experienced, in order to determine the specific causes for each person.
From a TCM perspective, gastritis can be caused by a number of different factors. Acute gastritis can be caused by the abdomen being exposed to cold temperatures or damp conditions, which can cause a blockage in the qi-energy of the stomach and intestines. Diet is of course a major factor. Eating too little or too much food, eating too much cold food, hot-spicy food, sugar and sweets, or greasy, fried, or dairy foods can damage the function of the stomach. Irregular eating habits such as eating too fast or on the go, eating late in the evening or at night, eating while stressed or emotionally upset, skipping breakfast, eating while performing other activities, or eating irregular amounts of food from day to day may also be factors. Emotional upset such as anger, frustration, resentment, worry and stress can lead to stomach problems, as can overwork and physical over-exertion. And finally, our inherited constitution may mean for some people a weakness in the stomach, which makes it prone to disorders such as gastritis.
Because of the accuracy in diagnosis, acupuncture and Chinese medicine can yield excellent results in the treatment of gastritis and promote healing of the stomach lining. Acupuncture can also help with many of the symptoms of gastritis including nausea, pain, and vomiting, and can help to reduce stress and improve overall digestive functioning. Combined with lifestyle and dietary changes, it can be an effective treatment option for resolving gastritis, strengthening a weak digestive system, and preventing future stomach disorders from occurring.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.