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Enteritis

Enteritis is inflammation of the small intestine.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Enteritis is usually caused by eating or drinking substances 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's disease
  • Certain drugs, including ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and cocaine
  • Damage from radiation therapy

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

Risk factors include recent family illness with intestinal symptoms, recent travel, or exposure to untreated or contaminated 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

Signs and tests

A stool culture may be done to determine the type of infection. However, this test may not always identify the bacteria causing the illness.

Treatment

Mild cases usually do not need treatment.

Antidiarrheal medication may not be recommended because it can slow the germ from leaving the digestive tract.

Rehydration with electrolyte solutions may be needed if the body does not have enough fluids (dehydration).

Persons with diarrhea (especially young children) who are unable to drink fluids because of nausea may need medical care and fluids through a vein (intravenous fluids).

If you take diuretics and develop diarrhea, you may need to stop taking the diuretic. However, do not stop taking any medicine unless directed by your health care provider.

Expectations (prognosis)

Symptoms usually go away without treatment in a few days.

Complications

  • Dehydration
  • Prolonged diarrhea

Note: The diarrhea can cause rapid and extreme dehydration in babies.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:

  • Dehydration develops
  • Diarrhea does not go away in 3 to 4 days
  • You have a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • There is blood in the stools

Prevention

  • 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.
  • Avoid drinking from unknown sources, such as streams and outdoor wells, without boiling the water first.
  • Use only clean utensils for eating or handling foods, especially when handling eggs and poultry.
  • Cook food completely and properly.
  • Store food appropriately in coolers.

References

DuPont HL. Approach to the patient with suspected enteric infection. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 291.

Semrad CE. Approach to the patient with diarrhea and malabsorption. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 142.

Giannella Ra. Infectious enteritis and proctocolitis and bacterial food poisoning. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 107.

Updated: 4/26/2012

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and George F Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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