What is enteritis?
Enteritis is the inflammation of your small intestine. In some cases, the inflammation can also involve the stomach (gastritis) and large intestine (colitis). There are various types of enteritis. The most common are:
- viral or bacterial infection
- radiation induced
- medication induced
- alcohol or drug induced
- enteritis related to poor blood flow
- enteritis related to inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
Symptoms of enteritis can include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Viral enteritis usually clears up without treatment in a few days. However, if you have symptoms of enteritis for more than three or four days, or you suspect that you have bacterial enteritis, seek medical attention.
Symptoms of enteritis
Symptoms of enteritis can start anywhere from a few hours to a few days after infection. Symptoms may include:
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- abdominal cramps and pain
- pain, bleeding, or mucus-like discharge from the rectum
Types of enteritis
There are several different types of enteritis:
The most common type of bacterial enteritis is caused by food poisoning. You can get it after ingesting food or water that is contaminated with bacteria. The bacteria can enter the food supply in a number of ways, including:
- improper food handling
- poor hygiene
- during poultry and meat processing
The foods most often associated with food poisoning are:
- raw poultry and meat
- unpasteurized milk
- fresh produce
Some common bacteria that cause enteritis include:
- Escherichia coli (E. coli)
- Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus)
- Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni)
- Yersinia enterocolitica (Y. enterocolitica)
- Bacillus species
You can also get enteritis when you come into close contact with other people or animals that are infected. This is less common.
This type of enteritis can occur after radiation therapy. Radiation works by killing rapidly dividing cells. This kills cancer cells, but also healthy cells. This includes mouth, stomach, and bowel cells.
Radiation enteritis develops when your normal, healthy intestinal cells are damaged by radiation and become inflamed. This condition usually goes away several weeks after you finish your treatment. However, symptoms can sometimes be chronic and last for months or years after you have finished your treatment. Researchers aren’t sure why this happens.
Enteritis can also be the result of:
Complications of enteritis
If symptoms are severe or, in the case of radiation enteritis, become chronic, you are at increased risk of dehydration. Infants and young children are especially vulnerable to dehydration. This is a serious health risk. You should seek help if you’re showing signs of dehydration due to loss of fluids through sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea. Symptoms of dehydration include:
- excessive thirst
- poor urine output
- dark urine with strong odor
- dizziness especially when standing up
When to seek medical care
Seek medical attention if:
- symptoms persist longer than three or four days
- you have a fever over 101˚F (38˚C)
- you notice blood in your stools
You should also seek help if you have symptoms of dehydration, which include:
- dry mouth
- sunken eyes
- lack of tears
- low volume of urine
- urine that is very dark in color
- severe fatigue
- soft spot on the top of the head of an infant, known as sunken fontanelles
- dizziness especially when standing up
If you have enteritis, your doctor will perform a physical examination. They may order blood tests or stool cultures to identify the cause of your illness.
How enteritis is treated
Mild cases of enteritis generally clear up within a few days. They don’t require medical treatment. People with diarrhea must replenish their fluids.
If you can’t get enough fluids, your doctor may recommend rehydration with electrolyte solutions. These solutions are made up of primarily water and the essential electrolytes: sodium (salt) and potassium. In severe cases, intravenous fluids, medications, or hospitalization may be necessary.
If you have radiation enteritis, you may need changes to your radiation therapy. You may even need to stop radiation entirely. In some cases, it may be necessary to have surgery performed to cut out the part of the bowel that has been damaged.
Long-term outlook for enteritis
For most people, symptoms go away within a few days. Recovery can take two to three weeks in more severe cases depending on the cause.
A full recovery may take as long as six to 18 months after radiation is completed in people with radiation enteritis.
How to prevent enteritis
Practicing good personal hygiene and safe food handling can help lower your chances of developing infectious enteritis.
- Always wash your hands with soap and water when available.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.
- Wash your hands before and after preparing food or drinks.
- Wash your hands before every meal.
- When traveling or away from running water, carry hand wipes. Sixty percent alcohol-based products are best.
- Don’t drink from outdoor wells or other water sources without first boiling the water.
- Avoid cross-contamination. Use clean utensils for each chore.
- Keep foods separate. For example, keep raw poultry away from lettuce.
- Wash kitchen surfaces often.
- Cook all foods to the correct temperature. Use a food thermometer.
- Beef, pork, and lamb should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145˚F (63˚C).
- Ground meats should be cooked to a minimum of 160˚F (71˚C).
- Poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165˚F (74˚C).
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
- Set your refrigerator to 40˚F (4˚C) or lower.
- Set your freezer to 0˚F (-17˚C) or lower.
- Be mindful of expiration dates on fresh food.