Enteritis: What Are the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments for Inflammation of Small Intestine?

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EnteritisWith all the medical terms relating to different types of inflammation of the small intestine, it can be confusing—if not incomprehensible. We will break down the terminology, and the associated digestive tract parts, to learn what enteritis of small intestine is. We will also look at possible solutions for how to treat enteritis.

First, what is enteritis exactly? Enteritis is the inflammation of the small intestine, also known as the small bowel. This term can refer to one of the three parts of the small intestine such as the duodenum, jejunum, or the ileum. It can also be associated with the small intestine as a whole. Furthermore, the term enteritis is usually linked to inflammation of neighboring organs such as gastroenteritis, inflammation of the stomach.

Causes of Enteritis 

Enteritis causes can be linked to bacterial or viral infections through means of ingestion. Once the microorganisms enter the small intestine, it becomes irritated and inflamed. The small intestine inflammation may also be caused external factors and other health conditions. Those at a high risk for contracting the condition are travelers, those exposed to contaminated or untreated water and food, and those with close family members experiencing intestine illness.

1. Autoimmune Diseases

An autoimmune disease will cause your immune system to attack healthy tissue in the intestines. The inflammation is referred to as autoimmune enteritis, and can lead to chronic enteritis. These diseases usually do not have a known cause and are triggered by infections, environmental factors, and genetics. The inflammatory bowel disease known as Crohn’s disease is one of these cases.

2. Trauma

An injury to the small bowel can make it susceptible to infection, leading to inflammation. This is usually seen with invasive procedures and surgery.

3. Medications

There are some prescription and over-the-counter medications that may cause enteritis. This can include ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. It can appear with prolonged use of the recreational drug cocaine.

4. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

The digestive disorder SIBO is another cause. The buildup of bacteria in the small intestine is sometimes seen with diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, injury to the intestine, and the use of certain medications. It may also be caused by the natural aging process.

What Are the Symptoms of Enteritis?

Enteritis symptoms vary from mild to severe. They can be present within hours of the bacterial or viral infection invading the small intestine, or they may not appear for several days. Be watchful for chronic and acute enteritis symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal or rectum pain
  • Cramping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Discharge or blood from rectum

Severe symptoms may be a sign of chronic enteritis and put you at risk for dehydration. Without treatment, this can lead to further health complications. Signs of dehydration include weakness, excessive thirst, fatigue, and dizziness. Changes in your urine color, odor, and output volume may also indicate hydration.

What Are the Types of Enteritis?

An enteritis diagnosis highly depends on the type of this disorder. The most common types are bacterial or viral infections, health conditions, poor blood circulation, and those induced by medication and alcohol.

1. Infectious Enteritis

This broad form of inflammation of the small bowel is commonly caused by a bacterial invader, and the source is usually linked to food poisoning. This can occur from being exposed to and consuming untreated or contaminated water and food such as raw poultry and meat, fresh produce, and unpasteurized milk. Poor food and water conditions can result from poor hygiene of handlers, improper processing, or inadequate storage of products. The bacterial forms responsible include salmonella, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Y. enterocolitica, shigella, C. jeiuni, and the bacillus species.

2. Radiation

Radiation enteritis can occur with radiation treatments for cancer. While radiation is intended to kill harmful cancer cells, it can also destroy healthy cells. This form is seen in the initial stages of radiation exposure to the abdomen, pelvis, or rectum, and up to eight weeks after radiation therapy is finished. In rare cases, the symptoms last for years.

Treatment of Enteritis

Enteritis treatment may be done under medical care, or in the case mild conditions, it may not be necessary at all. Our body has the wonderful ability to heal itself in certain circumstances, and the inflammation may dissipate on its own.

For the symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting, you may need to replenish the loss of fluids with intravenous fluids. You may be able to combat this situation with an electrolyte solution at home. This will help prevent dehydration from occurring.

Depending on the cause and severity of your symptoms, you may require anti-inflammatory medicine or antibiotics to treat the issue.

Preventing Enteritis

To prevent small bowel enteritis, there are several important hygiene and food preparation tips and lifestyle changes to follow.

  • Wash hands with soap and hot water before and after handling food.
  • Use alcohol-based cleansers or hand wipes if no running water is available.
  • Avoid drinking untreated water when traveling.
  • Use clean surfaces to prepare food.
  • Avoid cross-contamination of food and utensils when cooking.
  • Cook poultry and meat to appropriate temperatures.
  • Store food at appropriate temperatures.
  • Purchase and consume foods before expiration date.
  • Limit use of over-the-counter medications that may cause inflammation.
  • Avoid tobacco use.
  • Limit use of alcohol.

The effects and complications of enteritis may go beyond the inflammation of the small intestine, as it is a major player in the function of our digestive system. While many cases are mild and require no treatment, it is important for you to know the accompanying symptoms and conditions that may lead to serious concerns. Common sense is key in prevention tactics as careful food and drink preparation and a healthy lifestyle go a long way to stop the condition from developing.

“Enteritis,” Healthline; http://www.healthline.com/health/enteritis#overview1, last accessed April 19, 2017.
Dr. Chris, “Enteritis (Small Intestine Inflammation) Acute and Chronic,” Health Hype; http://www.healthhype.com/enteritis-small-intestine-inflammation-acute-and-chronic.html, last accessed April 19, 2017.
“Enteritis,” Medline Plus; https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001149.htm, last accessed April 19, 2017.