Noninfectious gastroenteritis and colitis are both conditions that affect your digestive tract. While they may lead to similar symptoms, they can have different causes, risk factors, and treatments.

Gastroenteritis and colitis are both conditions that cause inflammation in your digestive tract. While they have some similarities, there are also differences.

Gastroenteritis causes inflammation in your stomach and intestines. While it’s most often caused by a viral or bacterial infection, it also has noninfectious causes.

Colitis involves inflammation of your colon, which is part of your large intestine. Colitis has many possible causes, such as infections and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between noninfectious gastroenteritis and colitis.

Both noninfectious gastroenteritis and colitis can cause a variety of digestive symptoms. However, their specific symptoms can vary slightly.

Noninfectious gastroenteritis symptoms

The potential symptoms of noninfectious gastroenteritis include:

Colitis symptoms

Colitis can cause symptoms such as:

  • diarrhea
  • blood, mucus, or pus in stool
  • an urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • a feeling like you need to have a bowel movement even though your bowels are empty (tenesmus)
  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • fever

Let’s explore the potential causes of noninfectious gastroenteritis and colitis.

Noninfectious gastroenteritis causes

Noninfectious gastroenteritis has a variety of possible causes, including:

Colitis causes

Colitis has many potential causes, including:

Some people may have a greater risk of developing noninfectious gastroenteritis or colitis.

Noninfectious gastroenteritis risk factors

You may have a higher risk of developing noninfectious gastroenteritis if you’re taking certain types of medications or have specific food intolerances. Environmental exposure to some toxins may also increase your risk.

Colitis risk factors

The risk factors for colitis depend on what’s causing it. For example, you may be at a higher risk for infectious colitis if you:

  • eat raw or undercooked food
  • are in an area where infectious colitis is common
  • have close contact with someone who has infectious colitis
  • are taking antibiotics

Having a family history of IBD increases your risk of developing it yourself. Smoking is also a risk factor for Crohn’s disease specifically.

The exact cause of microscopic colitis isn’t known. However, potential risk factors include genetics, autoimmune conditions, and malabsorption of bile acids.

The potential risk factors for ischemic colitis include:

It’s important to seek medical attention for any digestive illness that includes:

  • vomiting or diarrhea that lasts more than a couple of days and doesn’t improve with at-home care
  • constant vomiting that prevents you from keeping fluids down
  • symptoms of dehydration due to persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • severe abdominal pain
  • blood in your stool
  • fever

In order to diagnose noninfectious gastroenteritis or colitis, a doctor will start by performing a physical exam and getting your medical history. They’ll ask:

  • what symptoms you have and how severe they are
  • when your symptoms started and how frequently they happen
  • whether anything makes your symptoms better or worse
  • whether you have a family history of any digestive conditions
  • whether you’re taking any medications (either prescription or over-the-counter)
  • whether you’ve traveled recently

Tests that doctors may use to help them make a diagnosis include:

  • blood tests
  • analysis of a stool sample to look for signs of infection, inflammation, or blood in your stool
  • endoscopy (upper GI endoscopy, colonoscopy, or both) to see inside your digestive tract
  • imaging, such as CT scans

If your doctor suspects that your symptoms may be caused by a medication, they may ask you to discontinue that medication, if possible, to see whether your symptoms improve.

The treatment of noninfectious gastroenteritis and colitis can also differ.

Noninfectious gastroenteritis treatment

The treatment for noninfectious gastroenteritis is mainly supportive. It may include:

  • resting
  • drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • sticking to blander foods, such as bread or crackers, rice, broths, and bananas
  • avoiding foods that may make symptoms worse, such as those that are:
    • fatty
    • spicy
    • very sweet
    • caffeinated

Your doctor may also recommend medications that can help reduce symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Be sure to take these exactly as directed.

If a specific medication is causing your symptoms, your doctor may recommend that you stop the medication or switch to a different medication.

Colitis treatment

The treatment of colitis depends on the cause. Treatment may include:

There’s no surefire way to prevent noninfectious gastroenteritis or colitis. However, you may be able to lower your risk by:

  • being aware of the potential side effects of any medications you’re taking
  • not consuming foods to which you have a known intolerance
  • cooking all foods to a safe minimum internal temperature
  • avoiding sources of water that may be contaminated
  • quitting smoking if you smoke

Here are answers to a couple of frequently asked questions about noninfectious gastroenteritis and colitis.

Is gastroenteritis the same as colitis?

No. Gastroenteritis can involve inflammation of your stomach and intestines. Colitis is inflammation of your colon, which is a part of your large intestine.

What’s are the differences between noninfective gastroenteritis and colitis vs. ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a specific type of colitis. It causes inflammation and ulcers in your colon and is believed to result from an atypical immune reaction.

Gastroenteritis involves inflammation of your stomach and intestines. While most cases are caused by infections, the condition also has noninfectious causes, including certain medications, food intolerances, and toxins.

Colitis is inflammation of your colon, which is part of your large intestine. It also has many causes, such as infections, IBD, and certain medications.

The symptoms of these two conditions are similar. Treatment can depend on the exact cause of your symptoms. Consult a doctor if you experience diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain that’s severe or persistent or does not get better with at-home care.