Nutrition

What is enteritis?

Enteritis is inflammation of the small intestine. Types include infectious enteritis, caused by bacteria or viruses, and radiation enteritis, which occurs as a result of radiation therapy.

Enteritis may also include gastritis, where inflammation affects the stomach or, in some cases, colitis, which involves inflammation of the large intestine.

Prevention methods for enteritis include proper food preparation, hygiene, and cleanliness.

Symptoms of enteritis may include:

  • abdominal pain or cramps
  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • bleeding or mucus-like discharge from the rectum
  • fever

Enteritis may not always require treatment. Mild cases and most viral infections go away on their own within a few days.

Types

There are several types of enteritis, and they each have different causes:

Infectious enteritis


Symptoms of enteritis can include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.

Infectious enteritis is the most common type and includes bacterial and viral enteritis.

Eating or drinking contaminated food or water causes bacterial enteritis.

Food and drink contamination may occur because of:

  • poor hygiene
  • improper food handling
  • poultry and meat processing
  • improper cooking

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), bacteria that most commonly cause food poisoning include:

  • bacillus cereus
  • campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni)
  • escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • salmonella
  • shigelia
  • staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus)

The FDA also list the food sources that cause food poisoning. Foods include:

  • raw poultry and meat
  • raw shellfish
  • unpasteurized milk
  • raw fresh produce
  • undercooked meat and eggs

Viral enteritis also occurs through eating or drinking contaminated food or water, and after contact with someone who has the virus.

Viral enteritis usually goes away within a few days. A bacterial infection may require medical attention if it lasts for an extended period.

Radiation enteritis

Radiation enteritis may occur as a result of radiation therapy. Radiation not only kills cancer cells, but healthy cells too, including the cells in the mouth, stomach, and bowel.

Radiation can lead to inflammation that may last for several weeks after treatment.


What are the complications of enteritis?

Dehydration is a potential complication. It may cause kidney and urinary problems, as well as heart problems. It is particularly dangerous in infants and young children, older adults, and those with chronic illnesses.

Symptoms of dehydration may include:

  • excessive thirst
  • urinating less frequently or in lower amounts
  • dark urine
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • lethargy
  • dizziness
  • sunken eyes
  • lack of tears
  • dry mouth

When someone has enteritis, it is essential to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

When to see a doctor

People with enteritis should seek medical attention if:

  • symptoms last longer than 2 days
  • they have a fever
  • there is blood in the stool

People should also see a doctor if they are experiencing any of the symptoms of dehydration listed above.


What are the treatment options?

electrolyte solution which can help with enteritis
An electrolyte solution can help treat dehydration.

Proper hydration is essential even in mild cases of enteritis, as well as for general health.

People can take electrolyte solutions to prevent and treat dehydration.

In severe cases, some people may require intravenous fluids.

The most severe cases usually result from a bacterial infection and may require medication or hospitalization.

Anyone who develops radiation enteritis may need to reschedule or even discontinue their radiation treatment. Surgery may be necessary if severe bowel damage occurs.

Prevention

There are several tips to help prevent food poisoning and enteritis, including practicing proper hygiene, food preparation, and cooking.

Improving hygiene

  • wash hands with soap and water regularly
  • wash hands after using the bathroom
  • wash hands before and after preparing meals and drinks
  • wash hands before eating
  • use hand wipes and hand sanitizer if running water is not available
  • avoid drinking from outdoor wells and other unsafe water sources

Food preparation tips

  • clean kitchen surfaces, utensils, and cooking devices thoroughly
  • keep different types of foods separate, such as chicken and other raw produce

Cooking tips

  • cook all foods at a correct and safe temperature according to the recipe
  • avoid undercooking chicken, fish, and eggs

Food storage tips

  • be aware of expiration dates and dispose of any expired items
  • dispose of any spoiled or questionable food items
  • refrigerate leftovers promptly
  • do not leave food out in the sun

Travel tips

  • avoid drinking from outdoor wells and other unsafe water sources without first boiling the water
  • drink properly sealed bottled water
  • choose restaurants and street food where it is possible to observe people preparing the food
  • select restaurants and street food vendors that are well attended, especially by local people

Additional tips

  • avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use
  • use caution with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aspirin, and oral steroids that may inflame the digestive system
  • talk to a doctor about the potential side effects of certain medications and radiation treatment


Takeaway

Symptoms of enteritis clear up within a few days in most cases.

Severe cases, such as those involving dehydration, may require treatment in a hospital.

In many cases, prevention of enteritis is possible by practicing good hygiene and handling food carefully.

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