• Medical

What Is Autoimmune Gastritis and How Is It Treated?

11.29.21

BY: DR. KYON HOOD, MD

Get familiar with autoimmune gastritis, its causes, and the best ways to get the treatment you need and manage your symptoms.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace medical consultation. If you feel like you may be suffering from autoimmune gastritis, seek advice from a medical professional.

If you're suffering from symptoms like a burning pain in your abdomen, frequent vomiting, or chronic nausea, you might be dealing with gastritis. The umbrella term of gastritis applies to several different conditions that affect the lining of your stomach, including acute gastritis, chronic gastritis, and autoimmune gastritis.

In this post, we'll be focusing on autoimmune gastritis, its pathogenesis (how it develops), how it differs from the other types of gastritis, and how it's treated.

In addition, we’ll provide you with some helpful information about managing your gastritis symptoms.

What Is Autoimmune Gastritis?

Autoimmune gastritis, sometimes called autoimmune atrophic gastritis, is a condition caused by the destruction of parietal cells in several different parts of your stomach. As these cells are broken down in the fundus (upper part of the stomach) and corpus (middle to lower part of the stomach where acid is produced), sufferers of autoimmune gastritis may start to suffer from numerous other issues, including vitamin B12 deficiency and anemia.

People who suffer from autoimmune gastritis tend to have coexisting autoimmune disorders as well. These conditions include Hashimoto's disease, which affects the thyroid, and type 1 diabetes.

However, some individuals who deal with autoimmune gastritis may also develop the condition independently of any other autoimmune disease.

How Does Autoimmune Gastritis Develop?

In cases of autoimmune gastritis, a common factor is a problem with your body's gastric proton pump, also known as gastric H+/K+ ATPase.

When someone has autoimmune gastritis, the proton pump functions as an autoantigen, meaning it is recognized by the immune system as a threat, causing autoimmunity.

When autoimmunity occurs, your body fights against its own cells, breaking them down and making your body more vulnerable to health problems.

Over time, autoimmune gastritis can also lead to major changes in your stomach lining, including the breakdown of parietal cells and the development of irregular lymphocytes and plasma cells within your stomach's oxyntic mucosa.

When autoimmune gastritis develops, the autoreactive T-cells in your immune system trigger a response that activates the B-cells, leading to the production of anti-parietal cell antibodies. Increased production of these antibodies is a key factor in the development of autoimmune diseases, including Addison’s disease and type 1 diabetes, as well as autoimmune gastritis.

Other Types of Gastritis

The other primary types of gastritis range from acute (shorter-lasting) to chronic (longer-lasting).

These forms of gastritis are more likely to develop as a result of a bacterial infection. One of the most common types of infections worldwide is from Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which is capable of surviving the high acidity of your stomach's gastric mucosa.

Another type of gastritis, chronic atrophic gastritis, is characterized by gastric atrophy. Gastric atrophy occurs when the stomach's inner lining gets thinner than it should be, which can decrease your body's absorption of nutrients and disrupt digestion.

Other types of gastritis sometimes affect parts of the stomach that are not impacted by AIG. While AIG primarily causes problems in the fundus and body of the stomach, other forms of gastritis may also affect the antrum (the very bottom that leads to the intestines).

How Is Autoimmune Gastritis Diagnosed?

If you suspect that you're suffering from autoimmune gastritis, the first step to take is to visit your doctor. Your healthcare provider can diagnose you with autoimmune gastritis through blood work or a biopsy of stomach tissue.

Because autoimmune gastritis is sometimes a precursor for gastric cancer and other types of tumors, getting a diagnosis as fast as possible is essential.

Through a process known as endoscopic surveillance, a healthcare provider can look at your stomach and bowel tissue to determine whether any ulcers or tumors are present.

An endoscopy is the most common method used for diagnosing autoimmune gastritis and other major stomach issues. During the procedure, a doctor inserts a tube with a camera attached to it into a patient's mouth or rectum, which is then used to look for the causes of problematic symptoms.

Getting an endoscopy can be intimidating for a lot of people, which puts them off from actually following through with one, but it's one of the most important steps towards the diagnosis of AIG.

What Are Some Risk Factors for Autoimmune Gastritis?

If you're concerned that stomach pain, vomiting, and other symptoms might be caused by autoimmune gastritis, it's worthwhile to determine whether you are at a higher risk for the condition. Below are some of the major risk factors for autoimmune gastritis.

Pernicious Anemia (Vitamin B12 Deficiency)

Pernicious anemia is a type of megaloblastic anemia that develops when your body isn't producing sufficient amounts of red blood cells. These cells oxygenate your body's tissues, and you can start dealing with a variety of issues without them.

Pernicious anemia differs from iron deficiency anemia in that it is caused by low levels of vitamin B12.

This essential nutrient is found in numerous foods, and it can also be taken as a supplement. However, there are still ways to develop pernicious anemia while getting enough vitamin B12 in your diet. The primary cause is an autoimmune disease, which can make it difficult for your body to absorb and use vitamin B12.

Autoimmune diseases like Addison's disease, Grave's disease, hypothyroidism, vitiligo, celiac disease, Hashimoto's disease, and other autoimmune thyroid diseases are all associated with increased risk of developing pernicious anemia – and, as a consequence, autoimmune gastritis.

Iron Deficiency

Another factor that can put you at an increased risk of developing autoimmune gastritis is iron deficiency.

An iron deficiency can occur when your body isn't getting enough of the mineral from food and supplements, but it can also develop as the result of an autoimmune disease like Crohn's or celiac.

Sufferers of autoimmune gastritis have been found to have abnormally low levels of gastric acid secretion, which partially explains the link between iron deficiency and autoimmune gastritis. However, it's speculated that gastrin, a hormone that stimulates gastric juice secretion, can be helpful in the treatment of autoimmune gastritis.

Intestinal Metaplasia

Intestinal metaplasia is a precancerous condition that affects the cells that make up your stomach lining. It's thought that intestinal metaplasia is primarily caused by a bacterial infection, but other risk factors include smoking, heredity, and your environment.

Because intestinal metaplasia causes stomach inflammation, it's considered a risk factor for the development of autoimmune gastritis.

Intestinal metaplasia is considered a primary cause for dysplasia, an abnormal development of cells within the tissue in a specific part of your body. Dysplasia occurs before the development of a tumor, which is why conditions like intestinal metaplasia are referred to as precancerous.

Diabetes

Autoimmune gastritis is also associated with type 1 diabetes. In fact, it's thought that type 1 diabetes patients are 3-5 times more likely to suffer from AIG.

The prevalence of AIG among sufferers of type 1 diabetes can be explained by the increased production of anti-parietal cell antibodies in type 1 diabetes patients.

Other Autoimmune Disorders

As previously mentioned, other autoimmune disorders, which cause chronic inflammation and often affect the stomach lining, can lead to the development of AIG. One of these conditions is Addison's disease, also known as adrenal insufficiency, which limits your adrenal glands' production of cortisol.

Stress

Stress can lead to chronic inflammation, which can leave your immune system with an abnormally high sensitivity to changes within your body. As a result, you might find yourself dealing with the symptoms of autoimmune gastritis while under chronic stress.

Over time, stress can weaken your immune system, making it easier for autoimmune conditions to develop and sometimes leading to the development of stomach ulcers and lesions as well.

Excessive Use of Alcohol or Pain Relievers

Because alcohol can cause irritation of the stomach lining, excessive drinking is considered a risk factor for AIG. In addition, frequent use of pain relievers – especially without following dosage guidelines – is associated with an increased risk of developing multiple types of gastritis.

Age

As you age, your body naturally becomes more vulnerable to disease, including autoimmune conditions. Once clinical presentation in patients of AIG is the coexistence of other autoimmune disorders, which often develop and worsen later in life.

As these conditions get worse and the natural aging process progresses, you may be more likely to develop AIG as well.

How Is Autoimmune Gastritis Treated?

Getting effective treatment for autoimmune gastritis as soon as possible after diagnosis is essential. When left untreated, AIG can progress, leading to the development of neuroendocrine tumors, gastric adenocarcinoma, and other potentially life-threatening health problems.

Antibiotics, If H. Pylori Is Detected

In many cases of AIG, there is a sort of molecular mimicry that occurs due to a bacterial infection with Helicobacter pylori. That bacteria can be mistaken by your immune system as non-threatening, leading to problems at the cellular level in your stomach. In this case, you'll need to take antibiotics to deal with the bacterial infection.

Acid Blockers

Acid blockers are medications that are often used to treat symptoms like heartburn and acid reflux, and they can also provide relief from many of the symptoms of AIG.

Probiotics

Probiotics are supplements and foods that promote healthy bacteria in your gut microbiome. Since gut health is essential for the prevention and management of many autoimmune disorders, adding probiotics to your health stack may make a major difference in your AIG symptoms.

Treating Vitamin Deficiencies

Since deficiencies in iron and vitamin B12 are risk factors associated with AIG, getting proper treatment and restoring nutrient levels can have a major positive impact on your symptoms.

IV Therapy and Integrative Medicine as Supplemental Support

If you're currently in treatment for AIG and get infusions as part of your regimen, we're here to help. One of the many services we offer is personal, at-home treatment for chronic conditions using IV therapy.

We can't replace your healthcare provider — you should always discuss teratments, concerns, and overall condition management with your primary provider. What we can do is help make it easier to manage your treatments and incorporate integrative medicine to support your overall health and wellness.

To learn more, visit our membership page here.

Sources:

Autoimmune atrophic gastritis | Rare Diseases

Gastritis - Diagnosis and treatment | Mayo Clinic

Autoimmune Gastritis with Type 1 Diabetes | Beyond Type 1

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