When various factors like poisons, bacterial and viral infections and irritants cause inflammation of the intestines, particularly the small intestine, the condition is described as enteritis.

The presence of pathogen microbes, clinically termed ‘serratia’, in food or drinks is likely to cause the disease. Viral enteritis does not require medical attention but severe symptoms of enteritis that stay for more than 3-4 days demand immediate clinical attention.

How Enteritis affect the body?

Severe inflammation of the human intestinal tract, especially in adults and infants may lead to dehydration of the body due to loss of water through excessive vomiting, sweating, and diarrhea.

Patients show signs of severe thirst, lethargic behavior, fatigue, poor urination, dizziness and dark urination with bad odor. The chronic state of enteritis is known as radiation enteritis and is a complicated health condition that needs medicinal assistance.

Enteritis Types

Enteritis may also involve the large intestine (colitis) and stomach (gastritis) other than the inflammation of the intestinal tract. The serious health condition is commonly induced by drug or alcohol intake, radiation, bacteria or viral infection, poor blood flow, certain medications and inflammatory conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. These are the different types of enteritis:

Shigella enteritis

A cluster of bacteria known as ‘shigella’ causes infection in the intestinal lining, called Shigella enteritis. Shigella bacteria are of different types including group A (Shigella dysenteriae), group B (Shigella flexneri) and group D (Shigella sonnei). The bacteria get released directly to others or through stool, and water. The common causes of Shigella enteritis are an overcrowded living condition, contaminated food, and poor sanitation.

Bacterial gastroenteritis

Infection in the intestines and stomach caused by bacteria is referred to as Bacterial gastroenteritis. The medical condition is also called food poisoning that occurs to a group of people eating at the same school cafeterias, restaurants, large social gatherings or picnic. The types of bacteria involved in food poisoning are Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter jejuni, Staphylococcus, and Yersinia.

Food can get contaminated in following ways:

  • When water used during shipping and growing contain human or animal waste.
  • Germs may seep into poultry or meat when animals are processed.
  • An inappropriate technique of food preparation and handling at homes, restaurants, or grocery stores.

Food poisoning occurs in the following ways:

  • If vegetables or fruits are not washed properly
  • If food is prepared with germs present in hand and not washed properly
  • Raw oysters or fish
  • Foods or dairy products that accumulate bacteria for being kept outside the refrigerator for long
  • Raw dairy products, vegetables or fruits, fruit juices
  • If foods ate cooked in unclean cooking utensils or other tools
  • Untreated or polluted water taken from stream or well and used for drinking or cooking purpose
  • Undercooked eggs or meats

Radiation enteritis

Radiation therapy used for the treatment of cancer may hamper the intestinal lining, thus causing Radiation enteritis. During radiation therapy, high-powered rays having radioactive seeds, x-rays and certain elements are used to kill the cancerous cells. In the process, active and healthy cells get damaged causing damage to the intestinal lines.

Patients suffering from prostate cancer, cervical cancer, rectal or colon cancer, or pancreatic cancer are at higher risk of getting radiation enteritis due to exposure or their pelvic area or belly to radiation during the therapy.

Campylobacter infection

The medical condition is triggered by a type of bacteria, known as Campylobacter jejuni that causes infection in the small intestine. This type of bacteria gets transmitted through food or drinks that lead to food poisoning. Unpasteurized milk, fresh produce or raw poultry generally carries this type of bacteria.

Salmonella enterocolitis

The condition is described as infections in the small intestinal lining caused by salmonella bacteria that get into food or drink, thus causing food poisoning. These are the various ways how you can get this infection:

  • By eating inadequately cooked foods or foods that have not been stored properly such as turkey, eggs or chicken
  • Having a poorly functioning immune system
  • Having ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Eating turtles, snakes or pet iguana
  • Working in nursing homes, health facilities or in hospitals
  • Using too many antibiotics for quite some time

Crohn’s disease

The condition is described as the inflammation of the human gastrointestinal tract. Some of the common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include diarrhea, abdominal pain mostly in the right area of the abdomen, rectal bleeding, fever, weight loss, etc. Sometimes, excessive bleeding may also lead to anemia.

Enteritis Symptoms

The symptoms of enteritis do not show up the same all times. They vary from person to person depending upon the stage of enteritis medical condition.

It should also be noted that the symptoms vary depending upon a specific cause that the individual is suffering from. Nonetheless, these are the common symptoms that indicate that you may be suffering from enteritis and so should refer to a doctor immediately:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Fever
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dehydration
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Diarrhea

Enteritis Causes

The major cause of enteritis is food poisoning as the harmful bacteria seeps through into the human body through foods or drinks. The germs attack the small intestine causing swelling and inflammation of the intestine and stomach.

Specific drugs such as ibuprofen, sodium, naproxen sodium also cause inflammation of the intestinal lining. The three major causes of enteritis include:

Infectious enteritis

Various types of bacteria such as Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter enter the small intestine through your stomach and damage the lining of the intestine. Rotavirus is one major pathogen that can be fatal once it enters the body through drink or food.

If a person is constantly exposed to the harmful elements of the environment from a small age, then he is unlikely to develop the disease since his body has already developed the antibodies required to combat the infectious bacteria.


There are two types of autoimmune conditions- Coeliac disease and Crohn’s disease (also called regional enteritis). Coeliac disease is triggered when the body reacts to gluten, and Crohn’s disease is caused to any particular surface of the intestinal tract. Apart from these two, Eosinophilic enteritis is another typical condition wherein bacteria develops in the blood vessels and gastrointestinal tract, resulting in ulcers, inflammation, and polyp formation.

Radiation enteritis

Patients suffering from rectal or colon cancer, cervical cancer or pelvic cancer are exposed to radiation therapy for treatment. However, the rays used in the process tend to damage healthy cells along with cancerous cells, resulting in inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract/lining.

Enteritis Diagnosis

If an individual notice any of the symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, excessive sweating or dehydration then he/she should report to the doctor.

A series of physical examination tests are conducted such as stool culture, blood count, colonoscopies, MRIs, CT scans, PCRs, upper endoscopies, etc., in order to carry out a differential diagnosis.

The doctor will ask the patient about certain circumstances to ensure the right diagnosis of enteritis. Medical attention is important in the following severe cases:

  • If you find blood in stools
  • If you are running a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • When symptoms of enteritis persist for over 3-4 days
  • Other than the common symptoms, if you show signs of sunken eyes, dry mouth, the soft spot on the head especially in infants (called sunken fontanelles)

Enteritis Treatment

There is nothing to worry if the symptoms clear up in a few days. Diarrhea is best treated at home by increasing intake of fluids.

An oral rehydration therapy practiced at home is recommended that includes dissolving eight teaspoons of sugar and one teaspoon of salt in water and drinking it.  Doctors often recommend electrolytes, i.e., potassium and sodium intake for replenishing lost fluids.

Severe or prolonged diarrhea should not be ignored since it requires emergency medical attention.

The condition is treated with antibiotics or intravenous rehydration therapy. In most severe cases, hospitalization is also required and surgical treatment is done to remove part of the damaged bowel.

Enteritis Prevention

Your home is the right place to initiate preventive measures. Safe handling of foods or drinks and practicing healthy personal hygiene serve right in preventing chances of enteritis. The measures that should be taken for cooking, food preparation and storing are:

  • Different foods should be cooked at varying and the right temperature. For instance, ground meats should not be cooked below 160 ˚ Fahrenheit, poultry should be cooked at a minimum 165 ˚ Fahrenheit and lamb, beef and pork should not reach below a temperature at 145 ˚.
  • Always store food separately such as raw poultry and raw meat away from lettuce.
  • Kitchen countertops should be properly washed.
  • Maintain the right temperatures in the refrigerators at 40˚F and freezer at 0˚F. There should not be any leftover in the freezer. Packaged raw foods kept in the freezer that have crossed expiry dates should be removed.
  • Some additional precautions are required such as avoiding excessive intake of alcohol and smoking, caution is taken for too much intake of Aspirins, NSAIDs, and oral steroids.

It is always advised to consult with a doctor before taking any oral medication.

Enteritis Prognosis

Taking preventive measures will help prevent infection of your stomach and small intestine. However, if the situation turns worse and the infection aggravates, medical attention is highly recommended.

The major problem with enteritis is dehydration, so drinking lots of fluids will help replenish the lost water from the body. Also, a proper diet is recommended. In case of severe condition, hospitalization or surgery is the only solution.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is enteritis?

It is the inflammation of the small intestine due to an attack of specific bacteria that gets into the human body through food or drink.

How to minimize the chance of enteritis while traveling?

Infections generally spread through contaminated water and food at restaurants, from street vendors, or from any social gatherings. You should avoid eating ice that is not made from clean water and also avoids left out raw vegetables, drinking water from unsafe sources like unclean tanks, wells, etc., and eating foods that are served very hot.

How to prepare foods in a healthy way to avoid enteritis?

Rinse vegetables, meat, and fish properly before cooking them. All utensils should be thoroughly washed and even your kitchen countertops should be cleaned regularly. Always wash your hands before you cook and if required wear gloves and then cook.

Make sure you eat yogurt and milk prepared from pasteurized milk.

What are three types of viruses responsible for enteritis?

Adenovirus, notovirus and rotavirus are the three types of viruses. Adenovirus is responsible for enteritis in young children, notovirus, on the other hand, transmits fast within a couple of days as it is highly contagious, and rotavirus is a common cause of the disease in babies.

How to understand looking at children that they are suffering from enteritis?

Children suffering from the disease are likely to show signs of dehydration such as very low urine output, irritable and lethargic behavior, loss tightness of the skin, dry mouth, rapid shallow breathing, etc.

However, if the condition becomes worse, then the symptoms aggravate resulting into the mottled and pale skin, low blood pressure, cold toes and fingers, and so on.

What are the types of probiotics to treat enteritis?

Probiotics refer to good bacteria that help to combat detrimental organisms in the human body. Lactobacillus is one of the most popular probiotics that maintain the right balance of bacteria, thus relieving you of symptoms of dehydration to aid you to recover soon. This type of probiotic is particularly helpful in treating traveler’s diarrhea.

Mild enteritis can be treated at home with a good intake of fluid to replenish the loss of water through vomiting, diarrhea, fever, etc. If the situation turns worse, medical treatment is imperative.

Under a doctor’s supervision, the patient is prescribed medications and antibiotics and is sometimes referred to as intravenous rehydration therapy. Infection of the small intestine is caused due to food poisoning; therefore taking preventive measures at home is the best way to fight enteritis.

Last updated on May 9th, 2018 at 9:25 am

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