Gastritis vs GERD: The difference
Gastritis and GERD may have some overlapping symptoms; however, they are distinct health conditions. Here is how you can tell them apart.
- The difference between gastritis and GERD lies in their symptoms and causes. Gastritis symptoms are similar to what you feel when you have indigestion, while GERD typically causes a burning sensation in the neck and chest region.
- GERD occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter—a valve at the lower end of the esophagus relaxes, allowing stomach content to flow back into the esophagus. On the other hand, gastritis is caused by factors that can damage and inflame the stomach lining, such as bacteria and alcohol use.
- Treatment for both conditions depends on the symptoms and cause. Doctors may prescribe antacids to treat GERD and antibiotics to treat gastritis caused by bacteria.
It is easy to mistake the symptoms of gastritis for GERD and vice versa because these two health conditions have some overlapping symptoms. But there are ways to distinguish between conditions, including looking out for certain symptoms and finding out the underlying cause.
This article discusses the differences between gastritis and GERD by reviewing their causes, symptoms, and treatment approaches.
What is gastritis?
Gastritis is a health condition in which the lining of the stomach gets red and swollen from inflammation. It can occur suddenly and last for a short time (acute gastritis), or it can happen progressively and last for a long time, damaging the stomach lining in the process (chronic gastritis).
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a health condition that occurs when acid from your stomach flows back up to your esophagus. GERD is also known as chronic acid reflux and causes indigestion and heartburn. An individual can experience GERD symptoms multiple times a week.
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is the doorway to the stomach. Usually, it closes right after food passes through it, but when the LES gets weak, it can lead to GERD, as the opening causes acid from your stomach to rise back into the esophagus.
Your doctor may diagnose you with GERD if you experience acid reflux multiple times per week.
Gastritis Vs. GERD: What is the difference?
Gastritis is a health condition that affects the stomach's protective lining, while GERD is acid reflux that affects the esophagus and its lining. The primary differences between these two health conditions are the parts of the body they affect, their causes, and their symptoms. With gastritis, you feel discomfort in your abdominal region, while with GERD, you will experience heartburn and discomfort in your chest region.
Symptoms of gastritis
The symptoms of gastritis can easily be mistaken for indigestion caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices, resulting in upper-abdominal discomfort, bloating, and nausea. However, a recent study shows that some people can develop chronic gastritis and may show no symptoms for this health condition for a long time. Here are some of the common symptoms and signs of gastritis:
- Upper abdominal discomfort
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Belching and farting
- Vomit containing blood
Symptoms of GERD
An article published in Elsevier revealed that heartburn is a prominent symptom of GERD. When a person has heartburn, they may feel a burning sensation in their chest region that extends to their throat and neck. It leaves behind a bitter and acidic taste, and it may feel like the person has food from their stomach regurgitated back into their throat. Besides this, here are some common symptoms that may also be indicators of GERD.
- Bad breath
- Difficulty swallowing
- Back pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Sore throat
Causes of gastritis
The causes of gastritis vary, but bacterial infection is the common cause of this health condition. Other reasons you may have this health condition include diet, lifestyle, and a pre-existing health condition.
- Bacterial infection: The Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria which can enter the body through contaminated food and water, often invade the stomach lining causing damage to this part of the stomach. If left untreated, damage to the stomach lining can lead to inflammation and stomach ulcers. According to an article published in 2016, researchers found a link between chronic gastritis caused by bacterial infection and gastric cancer.
- Excessive Alcohol consumption: Excess consumption of alcohol can wear away the stomach lining and cause inflammation.
- Extreme stress from severe illness: A recent study shows that stress from recent psychological events or living with a chronic health condition, such as a heart condition, can result in gastritis. Physiological stress can also lead to sores in the upper gastrointestinal tract—a condition known as stress ulcer.
- Autoimmune disorders: Your body’s immune system may attack the protective lining of the stomach, leading to inflammation.
- Chronic bile reflux: This occurs when bile flows back into the stomach instead of through the small intestine. Chronic bile reflux erodes the stomach lining and can cause symptoms such as burning pain in the stomach.
Some people believe skipping meals like breakfast can cause gastritis. While certain meal patterns can worsen the condition, they may not directly cause it.
Causes of GERD
GERD is primarily caused by the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) becoming weak or too relaxed. This causes stomach content, along with acid, to come back up into your esophagus, leading to inflammation and heartburn, among other symptoms.
Other things that may increase the likelihood of developing GERD include:
Frequently eating large meals: This action can reduce the pressure required to close the LES, thus leading to acid reflux.
Lying down immediately after eating: Your body position after this movement reduces the pressure on the LES
Hiatal hernia: This condition occurs when your stomach moves past the opening in your diaphragm to the upper part of your chest. This movement reduces the pressure required to keep the LES close, resulting in acid reflux.
Is treatment for gastritis the same as GERD?
Treatment for gastritis and GERD may be similar, but they are not always the same. Doctors will often treat each medical condition depending on factors such as:
- The cause of the condition
- The symptoms experienced
- The severity of the symptoms
- Other underlying medical conditions
- Other medications the patient is taking
For example, if a person has gastritis that is caused by bacteria, a doctor may give them antibiotics. But antibiotics will not work for GERD, unless the person also has a bacterial infection.
Here are some treatment methods that are common to both gastritis and GERD.
- Antacids: This medication neutralizes the acid in the body to reduce some symptoms common to both GERD and gastritis, such as pain in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs help reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces to reduce inflammation and any burning sensation that occurs as a result of stomach acid eroding the walls of the stomach or esophagus.
- H2 blockers: Medicines under this category also help reduce the production of acids which may cause inflammation. .
A 2020 study associates acidic, salty, spicy, and fatty foods with gastritis symptoms. This suggests that dietary changes may help relieve the symptoms of this condition.
In addition to the treatment prescribed for reducing the production of stomach acid, doctors may prescribe other medications to treat underlying causes of these gastrointestinal conditions, such as:
Medical professionals administer prokinetics to treat acid reflux. Prokinetics work by strengthening the LES and emptying the stomach fast before there is a chance for acid reflux to occur.
Stomach acid can go back to the esophagus because of a weakened LES. Baclofen strengthens the LES and allows it to close up properly upon the passage of food to prevent acid reflux.
Medications containing this acid create a foam barrier to prevent acid from your stomach from going back up.
When to seek medical attention
Both gastritis and GERD require medical treatment.
Gastritis can develop suddenly or can develop over a period of time. The symptoms may also be mild or severe. Irrespective of whether the initial symptoms affect your daily living or not, leaving gastritis untreated can eventually give rise to health complications like stomach ulcers and atrophic gastritis, which occurs due to chronic inflammation of the stomach lining.
Consider speaking with a general practitioner if you experience signs and symptoms of gastritis. Signs like blood in stool or vomit and unusual weight loss are valid reasons to see a doctor urgently. Also, report to your doctor any serious side effects from previous gastritis medications.
According to a recent 2018 study, GERD can be serious and sometimes lead to other severe health complications like esophagitis and Barrett’s esophagus that can last long-term . Consider contacting a doctor if you experience symptoms, such as heartburn that persists after taking medications, acid reflux that interrupts daily activities, hoarseness, or pain while swallowing.
GERD and gastritis are both medical conditions that affect the gastrointestinal tract. A person has gastritis when the protective lining of their stomach has been inflamed. GERD, on the other hand, is caused by stomach acid coming back to your esophagus. The causes of GERD and gastritis are different, and while they share some similar symptoms, doctors have different treatment approaches for each.
If you experience unusual gastrointestinal symptoms that don't go away or worsen, you should consider seeking medical attention.