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Enteritis

Definition

Enteritis is inflammation of the small intestine.

Causes

Enteritis is most often caused by eating or drinking things that are contaminated with bacteria or viruses. The germs settle in the small intestine and cause inflammation and swelling.

Enteritis may also be caused by:

  • An autoimmune condition, such as Crohn disease
  • Certain drugs, including ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and cocaine
  • Damage from radiation therapy
  • Celiac disease

The inflammation can also involve the stomach (gastritis) and large intestine (colitis).

Risk factors include:

  • Recent stomach flu among household members
  • Recent travel
  • Exposure to unclean water

Types of enteritis include:

Symptoms

The symptoms may begin hours to days after you become infected. Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea - acute and severe
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in the stool

Exams and Tests

Tests may include:

  • A stool culture to look for the type of infection. However, this test may not always identify the bacteria causing the illness.
  • A colonoscopy and/or upper endoscopy to look at the small intestine and to take tissue samples if needed.
  • Imaging tests such as CT scan and MRI.

Treatment

Mild cases often do not need treatment.

Antidiarrheal medicine is sometimes used. However, it may not be recommended in some cases because it can slow the germ from leaving the digestive tract.

You may need rehydration with electrolyte solutions if your body does not have enough fluids.

You may need medical care and fluids through a vein (intravenous fluids) if you have diarrhea and cannot keep fluids down. This is often the case with young children.

If you take diuretics (water pills) and develop diarrhea, you may need to stop taking the diuretics. However, do not stop taking any medicine without first talking to your health care provider.

You may need to take antibiotics.

People who have Crohn disease will often need to take anti-inflammatory medicines.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Symptoms most often go away without treatment in a few days in otherwise healthy people.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

  • Dehydration
  • Long-term diarrhea

Note: In babies, the diarrhea can cause severe dehydration that comes on very quickly.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

  • You become dehydrated.
  • Diarrhea does not go away in 3 to 4 days.
  • You have a fever over 101°F (38.3°C).
  • You have blood in your stool.

Prevention

The following steps may help prevent enteritis:

  • Always wash your hands after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food or drinks. You may also clean your hands with a 60% alcohol-based product.
  • Boil water that comes from unknown sources, such as streams and outdoor wells, before drinking it.
  • Use only clean utensils for eating or handling foods, especially when handling eggs and poultry.
  • Cook food thoroughly.
  • Use coolers to store food that needs to stay chilled.

References

DuPont HL. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 283.

Haines CF, Sears CL. Infectious enteritis and proctocolitis. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 110.

Lima AAM, Warren CA, Guerrant  RL. Bacterial inflammatory enteritides. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 101.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 140.

Review Date:5/11/2016
Reviewed By:Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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