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Erosive Gastritis

by Michael C. DiMarino, MD

Erosive gastritis is gastric mucosal erosion caused by damage to mucosal defenses. It is typically acute, manifesting with bleeding, but may be subacute or chronic with few or no symptoms. Diagnosis is by endoscopy. Treatment is supportive, with removal of the inciting cause. Certain ICU patients (eg, ventilator-bound, head trauma, burn, multisystem trauma) benefit from prophylaxis with acid suppressants.

Common causes of erosive gastritis include

  • NSAIDs

  • Alcohol

  • Stress

Less common causes include

  • Radiation

  • Viral infection (eg, cytomegalovirus)

  • Vascular injury

  • Direct trauma (eg, NGTs)

Superficial erosions and punctate mucosal lesions occur. These may develop as soon as 12 h after the initial insult. Deep erosions, ulcers, and sometimes perforation may occur in severe or untreated cases. Lesions typically occur in the body, but the antrum may also be involved.

Acute stress gastritis, a form of erosive gastritis, occurs in about 5% of critically ill patients. The incidence increases with duration of ICU stay and length of time the patient is not receiving enteral feeding. Pathogenesis likely involves hypoperfusion of the GI mucosa, resulting in impaired mucosal defenses. Patients with head injury or burns may also have increased secretion of acid.

Symptoms and Signs

Patients with mild erosive gastritis are often asymptomatic, although some complain of dyspepsia, nausea, or vomiting. Often, the first sign is hematemesis, melena, or blood in the nasogastric aspirate, usually within 2 to 5 days of the inciting event. Bleeding is usually mild to moderate, although it can be massive if deep ulceration is present, particularly in acute stress gastritis.


Acute and chronic erosive gastritis are diagnosed endoscopically.


  • For bleeding: Endoscopic hemostasis

  • For acid suppression: A proton pump inhibitor or H 2 blocker

In severe gastritis, bleeding is managed with IV fluids and blood transfusion as needed. Endoscopic hemostasis should be attempted, with surgery (total gastrectomy) a fallback procedure. Angiography is unlikely to stop severe gastric bleeding because of the many collateral vessels supplying the stomach. Acid suppression should be started if the patient is not already receiving it.

For milder gastritis, removing the offending agent and using drugs to reduce gastric acidity (see Drug Treatment of Gastric Acidity) may be all that is required.


Prophylaxis with acid-suppressive drugs can reduce the incidence of acute stress gastritis. However, it mainly benefits certain high-risk ICU patients, including those with severe burns, CNS trauma, coagulopathy, sepsis, shock, multiple trauma, mechanical ventilation for > 48 h, hepatic or renal failure, multiorgan dysfunction, and history of peptic ulcer or GI bleeding.

Prophylaxis consists of IV H 2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors, or oral antacids to raise intragastric pH > 4.0. Repeated pH measurement and titration of therapy are not required. Early enteral feeding also can decrease the incidence of bleeding.

Acid suppression is not recommended for patients simply taking NSAIDs unless they have previously had an ulcer.

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