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According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), digestive diseases affect roughly 60 to 70 million people in the United States. Some of these digestive diseases, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), affect a significant number of people. However, other types of digestive diseases, such as eosinophilic gastroenteritis, affect a much smaller portion of the population.

Keep reading to learn about eosinophilic gastroenteritis, including its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

Eosinophilic gastroenteritis is a gastrointestinal condition characterized by chronic digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and more. The condition is rare, affecting roughly 10 in 100,000 people.

The term eosinophilic refers to the presence of a type of white blood cell called eosinophils. Eosinophils reside in many tissues around the body and play an important role in the immune system response.

Under normal circumstances, eosinophils remain within their respective tissues and are only released when an immune response is triggered. However, in people with eosinophilic gastroenteritis, the eosinophils infiltrate the digestive tract and cause inflammation and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Unlike eosinophilic esophagitis, which primarily affects the esophagus, eosinophilic gastroenteritis affects a larger portion of the digestive tract. While the stomach and small intestine are two of the most commonly affected areas, this condition can affect any portion of the lower digestive tract.

Eosinophilic gastroenteritis is subtyped according to the location of eosinophilic infiltration within the intestinal wall layers. It can affect either the mucosal layer, the muscular layer, or the serosal layer.

Symptoms of eosinophilic gastroenteritis vary depending on which part of the gastrointestinal tract is affected and the extent of eosinophilic infiltration. However, common symptoms of this condition may include:

Children who have eosinophilic gastroenteritis may also exhibit the following symptoms due to malnutrition:

Talk with a doctor if you or your child are experiencing digestive issues

In some cases, eosinophilic gastroenteritis can cause bowel wall thickening, which can lead to more serious complications such as intestinal obstruction or intestinal perforation. Since many of the symptoms listed above can also be caused by an intestinal obstruction, any new or concerning digestive symptoms should be checked out by a doctor.

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Scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes eosinophilic gastroenteritis, but research has suggested that hypersensitivity may play a role in the development of this rare condition.

Roughly 50 percent of people diagnosed with eosinophilic gastroenteritis also have other conditions such as

People with eosinophilic gastroenteritis may also have food allergies or allergies to medications.

Researchers believe that the allergic response found in these types of conditions can damage the intestinal barrier and trigger the potential infiltration of eosinophils. Once the eosinophils have infiltrated the digestive tract, it can lead to eosinophilic gastroenteritis.

Some research has suggested that other digestive conditions may be associated with eosinophilic gastroenteritis, such as ulcerative colitis and celiac disease. However, because eosinophilic gastroenteritis can only be diagnosed if other digestive conditions aren’t present, it’s unlikely they’re related.

Ultimately, more research is still needed on potential underlying causes and risk factors of eosinophilic gastroenteritis.

If your doctor suspects that you may have eosinophilic gastroenteritis, they’ll first perform a physical examination and a thorough review of your medical history and symptoms. Doctors diagnose eosinophilic gastroenteritis using four criteria:

  1. gastrointestinal symptoms are present
  2. there’s eosinophilic infiltration of the gastrointestinal tract
  3. there’s no parasitic infection
  4. there’s no other systemic involvement

Your doctor will likely perform a series of laboratory tests to rule out other conditions that may be present. Laboratory tests may include:

  • blood work, to test for conditions such as celiac disease
  • stool sample, to test for bacterial or parasitic infections
  • skin prick test, to test for food and environmental allergies

Your doctor will also want to use a complete blood count, or eosinophil count, to check the level of eosinophils in your blood. A normal eosinophil count is roughly 500 eosinophils (eos)/μL. However, in people with eosinophilic gastroenteritis, eosinophil counts can range from 1000 eos/μL all the way up to 8000 eos/μL.

In addition to laboratory tests, your doctor may want to perform other diagnostic tests to examine your digestive tract in more detail. Diagnostic tests may include:

A biopsy is one of the most important diagnostic tools for eosinophilic gastroenteritis, because it allows your doctor to take a closer look at your intestines for evidence of eosinophilic infiltration.

Dietary therapy is the first line of therapy and can play an important role in reducing symptoms of eosinophilic gastroenteritis. If food allergies are present, it’s important to eliminate these foods from the diet as they can contribute to an increase in inflammation. Dietary therapy is best done under the supervision of a nutritionist or dietitian.

Corticosteroids are the most effective class of drugs for this condition, because they work by limiting the activity of the immune system and reducing the inflammation within the digestive tract. They are effective in up to 90 percent of patients with eosinophilic gastroenteritis. Commonly prescribed corticosteroids include fluticasone, prednisolone, and budesonide, with prednisone being the preferred treatment option.

Antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers have also been proposed as treatment options for eosinophilic gastroenteritis. Antihistamines work by blocking the inflammatory effects of histamine, while mast cell stabilizers work by limiting the effects of certain immune system cells.

Surgery is rarely ever used to treat eosinophilic gastroenteritis, as most other interventions — such as medications and dietary therapy — are effective enough on their own.

Eosinophilic gastroenteritis is a rare chronic condition that can sometimes be a challenge for both patients and doctors alike, due to the limited amount of research available regarding diagnosis and treatment.

However, despite the lack of available research, eosinophilic gastroenteritis is rarely fatal, and long-term treatment can be effective at reducing symptoms and increasing quality of life.