Enteritis: Symptoms, Causes & Diagnosis

Enteritis is a medical condition characterized by inflammation of the small intestine. While the specific symptoms, causes, and treatments can vary widely, it is essential to understand these aspects to manage the condition effectively.

Symptoms range from mild to severe, and the causes of enteritis are diverse; These may include infections, autoimmune disorders, and reactions to medications. Treatments, on the other hand, typically depend on the underlying cause and may involve medication, dietary adjustments, and other medical interventions. 

Due to the complexity and potential severity of enteritis, it is crucial for you to seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. This ensures not only the alleviation of immediate discomfort but also the prevention of more severe complications.

Causes of Enteritis

Several factors can lead to inflammation of the intestine. It’s crucial to recognize these triggers for effective prevention or treatment.


This is among the most common causes of enteritis. Foodborne illnesses, such as salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis, frequently result in enteritis. 

Consuming contaminated food or water can introduce harmful bacteria or viruses that multiply in your system, leading to small intestine inflammation.

E. Coli, Salmonella, and Shigella are examples of bacteria responsible for enteritis. On the other hand, viral enteritis can be caused by Norovirus or Rotavirus.

Food Choices and Lifestyle

Your diet and lifestyle can also significantly influence the health of your gut. Long-term consumption of high-fat foods, excessive alcohol, and not getting enough fiber in your diet can contribute to enteritis.

Additionally, a lack of physical activity can hinder your digestive system’s ability to function normally.

Stress and Anxiety

Stressors can negatively impact your digestive health and chronic stress can weaken the immune system, contributing to inflammation and subsequent enteritis.

Stress and anxiety can also exacerbate symptoms of enteritis by affecting the digestive system and increasing susceptibility to infections. 

Food Allergies

Some individuals have an immune response to certain foods, causing inflammation in the small intestine. The most common food allergies include peanuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, and wheat.

This reaction is typically immediate and can cause irritation as well as other painful symptoms.

Reduced Blood Flow

Reduced blood flow to your small intestine, also known as ischemic enteritis, can cause inflammation.

This condition usually affects older adults who have blocked arteries due to atherosclerosis.

Medications and Clinic Procedures

Certain medications, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can cause enteritis as they might damage the lining of your small intestine.

Prolonged exposure to radiation for therapeutic reasons may induce chronic radiation enteritis. This is common in patients being treated for cancer using radiation therapy.


In some cases, enteritis can be a symptom of certain autoimmune conditions. These conditions occur when your immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s own cells. In the case of enteritis, it’s your small intestine that becomes a target.

Crohn’s disease and Celiac disease are two such autoimmune conditions that can cause enteritis.

Symptoms of Enteritis

Understanding the symptoms of enteritis is integral to timely diagnosis and treatment. In this section, you will learn about various signs that may indicate inflammation of your small intestine.

Stomach Discomfort

One of the primary symptoms of enteritis is discomfort in the abdomen. You may notice a persistent feeling of tenderness or pain in your stomach area. This discomfort can be mild to severe, varying from person to person, and can significantly affect your daily activities.

You may also experience bloating or a feeling of fullness due to gas. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and can lead to other health issues if not addressed in a timely manner.


A common sign of enteritis is diarrhea, which often accompanies abdominal discomfort. If you have enteritis, you are likely to experience loose or watery stools that occur more frequently than normal.

This symptom could be your body’s way of trying to get rid of the infection or allergen causing the inflammation in your small intestine.

Nausea and Vomiting

These are common symptoms of enteritis, often caused by inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract triggering the body’s natural response. 

Aside from directly affecting daily activities, these symptoms can lead to dehydration if not managed properly.


Dehydration is a significant concern of enteritis due to fluid loss from vomiting, diarrhea, and reduced fluid intake. 

Immediate action should be taken to combat this symptom, as it can lead to weakness, dizziness, and electrolyte imbalances if left untreated. This poses a serious risk to a person’s health and safety.

Fatigue and Fever

Feeling constantly fatigued can be another indication of enteritis. The fatigue might be due to your body fighting off an infection, malabsorption due to inflammation, or the loss of nutrients through diarrhea.

You might also experience a mild to moderate fever, especially if your enteritis is due to a bacterial or viral infection, which is a sign that your body’s defenses are trying to combat the pathogens.

Loss of Appetite and Weight Loss

Enteritis may also lead to a loss of appetite, causing you to eat less than usual. The inflammation can interfere with the normal absorption of nutrients in your small intestine.

In the long term, this could result in weight loss. A noticeable drop in weight or difficulty maintaining your typical weight amidst reduced appetite should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

Bleeding or Discharge in Stool

In more severe cases of enteritis, you might notice blood or mucus in your stool. The inflammation in your small intestine might cause small tears or ulcers, leading to the presence of blood in your stool.

Similarly, if you observe a change in bowel movements accompanied by unusual discharge or an increase in mucus, this could be a sign of enteritis.

Confirming Enteritis

Diagnosing enteritis involves a combination of clinical evaluation, laboratory tests, and imaging studies. These are done to identify and assess the extent of inflammation in the small intestine. 

Physical Examination

The first step in diagnosing enteritis involves a thorough physical examination where they will conduct an abdominal exam to check for any tenderness or swelling.

Though this is a critical first step, a physical examination alone does not confirm enteritis. It gives your doctor invaluable clues about your condition and guides them on the following steps to take.

Taking the Medical History

Medical history is crucial for diagnosing enteritis, as it helps identify potential risk factors and previous gastrointestinal issues. 

Physicians may inquire about recent travel, dietary habits, medications, and supplements being taken, as well as any underlying conditions.

Blood Tests

Blood tests can spotlight signs of infection or inflammation in your body, such as a high white blood cell count. They can also detect if you’re dehydrated or have an electrolyte imbalance due to diarrhea.

Moreover, blood tests can help diagnose certain types of enteritis, like those stemming from autoimmune conditions. For example, tests looking for specific antibodies can help diagnose Celiac disease.

Stool Tests

A stool test is a common method used in diagnosing enteritis. Your doctor may order a stool culture to check for the presence of harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites. 

This test can also identify the presence of blood or mucus in the stool that may not be apparent to the naked eye. In addition, stool tests can identify markers of inflammation, such as calprotectin or lactoferrin.

Breath Tests

Breath tests are utilized primarily to diagnose small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition that can cause enteritis. During this test, you are required to breathe into a device that captures and analyzes your breath.

The principle behind this is that certain bacteria produce gas when they metabolize sugars, and these gasses can be detected in your breath. If you test positive, it indicates an overgrowth of bacteria in your small intestine, which may be the underlying cause of your enteritis.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests could be used in certain cases, mainly when the cause of enteritis is still unclear. An abdominal X-ray or CT scan can help assess the condition of your small intestine and identify any signs of inflammation.

Similarly, a colonoscopy or upper endoscopy may be performed to visualize the inside of your digestive tract directly. This can help your doctor spot any areas of inflammation and, if necessary, take a tissue sample for further testing.

Tissue Sampling

A biopsy involves taking a small sample of tissue from your small intestine for analysis. This procedure is usually done during an endoscopy. The sample is then examined under a microscope to look for signs of inflammation and damage caused by enteritis.

This step is typically reserved for severe cases or situations where other tests haven’t provided a clear diagnosis. A biopsy can help to differentiate enteritis from other gastrointestinal conditions. It also permits a more detailed evaluation of the type and degree of inflammation.

Management of Enteritis

The treatment of enteritis depends on its cause, severity, and the specific symptoms presented by the patient. It is a combination of approaches related to addressing symptoms, underlying causes, and complications resulting from the condition.

Increasing Fluids and Electrolytes

One of the primary treatment methods is rehydrating your body and restoring lost electrolytes. Dehydration due to diarrhea or vomiting, or a combination of both, is a common complication of enteritis. 

This treatment is critical since severe dehydration can result in life-threatening complications. It involves drinking plenty of fluids, oral rehydration solutions, or, in severe cases, intravenous fluids. 

Maintaining an electrolyte balance is crucial for many bodily functions. Sodium and potassium, essential for heart and nerve function, are often lost during episodes of diarrhea, and replenishing them is critical for your recovery.

Pain Relievers

To manage the abdominal pain typically associated with enteritis, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers. However, it’s important to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as they can exacerbate gastrointestinal problems.

For severe discomfort, your healthcare provider may prescribe stronger pain medication.

Medications for Diarrhea

Your healthcare provider may recommend antidiarrheal medications to control frequent loose stools if you’re diagnosed with enteritis. These medications can slow down your digestive system and alleviate diarrhea symptoms.

However, in some cases, especially when an infection is causing enteritis, your doctor may avoid these medications as they prevent your body from eliminating bacteria or viruses quickly.

Antibacterial and Antiviral Medications

If your enteritis is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed to help your body fight off the infection.

In the case of a viral infection, your doctor might suggest antiviral medication in addition to methods to boost your immunity.

Meal Planning and Adjustments

Depending on the cause of your enteritis, dietary changes may be necessary. If a food allergy is the culprit, eliminating that allergen from your diet can alleviate symptoms. Those who have Celiac disease will need to adopt a gluten-free diet.

Similarly, if your diet is contributing to enteritis, you may need to reduce the consumption of high-fat foods, increase your fiber intake, or limit your alcohol intake.


Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support your gut health. Including them in your treatment plan may help in managing enteritis by restoring balance to your gut microbiota, espeically if the condition was caused by a bacterial infection or the use of antibiotics.

Probiotics can be found in certain fermented foods like yogurt or dietary supplements. It’s advisable to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements, including probiotics.


In severe cases of enteritis, such as when there’s a blockage, severe bleeding, or extensive damage to the small intestine, surgery might be necessary. Surgical intervention may involve removing the affected part of the small intestine.

This is generally considered a last resort when other treatments have failed to improve your condition. It’s crucial to discuss benefits and potential risks with your doctor before proceeding.

Enteritis Prevention 

Mitigating the risks of enteritis involves a combination of good hygiene practices, proper food handling, and lifestyle adjustments. By understanding and applying the following measures, you can significantly reduce your chances of infection and ensure gastrointestinal health.

Food Preparation, Cooking, and Storage

Practicing good food hygiene can prevent enteritis caused by consuming contaminated foods. Always ensure that your food is cooked correctly, especially meat and seafood. Be cautious while eating raw fruits and vegetables, and make sure they are washed thoroughly.

Avoid eating food that’s been kept at room temperature for too long, as it increases the risk of bacterial growth. Moreover, storing food properly and ensuring that utensils and cooking surfaces are clean can help avert foodborne illnesses.

Drink Safe Water

Drinking safe water is vital for prevention, as contaminated water can harbor bacteria and viruses that cause enteritis. Ensure water sources are clean and adequately treated before consumption. 

Use water filters or filter systems at home to purify tap water for both drinking and cooking. When in doubt, opt for bottled water.

Maintain Personal Hygiene

Keeping up personal hygiene is critical in preventing enteritis. Washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially before and after handling food, after using the washroom, or when you’re in a public place, can dramatically reduce your risk of infection.

In addition, avoid close contact with those who are sick and don’t share eating utensils, food, or drinks. Remember, many infections that cause enteritis can spread quickly from person to person.

Adhere to Travel Precautions

Follow travel precautions when visiting areas with poor sanitation to reduce the risk of contracting enteritis from contaminated food or water sources. 

Use due diligence in researching the places you are planning to visit including any endemic diseases, reputable brands of purified water, and restaurants that prioritize clean food preparation. Practice good hygiene and avoid consuming uncooked or undercooked foods.

Stress Reduction

Stress can negatively affect your digestive system and exacerbate conditions like enteritis. Practicing stress management techniques can prove beneficial in preventing flare-ups. 

Relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation, or just a few minutes of deep breathing can help your body and mind deal with stress effectively. In cases of chronic stress, consider seeking help from a mental health professional who can guide you through more structured stress management strategies.

Healthy Lifestyle and Diet

Healthy lifestyle choices can significantly reduce the risk of enteritis. Regular exercise and adequate sleep go a long way in supporting a healthy gut while relieving stress.

As for diet, consuming a balanced mix of nutrients is crucial. Aim for a diet high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low in unhealthy fats. Also, hydrate regularly and limit your alcohol and caffeine intake.

Understand Your Allergens

If food allergies are causing your enteritis, understanding and being aware of your allergens can aid in preventing future flares. Reading food labels should become a habit to avoid unknowingly consuming these allergens.

Moreover, consider keeping a food diary to monitor your reactions to specific food items. Communicate this information with your healthcare provider, which can support a more effective treatment plan.

Get Vaccinated

Getting vaccinated can be a crucial step in preventing viral enteritis, particularly that caused by the rotavirus or norovirus.

Vaccines stimulate your immune system to develop resistance against specific viruses during the onset of infection.

Manage Long-term Illnesses

If you have chronic conditions like Celiac disease or Crohn’s disease that are known to cause enteritis, effectively managing these conditions is essential in preventing enteritis.

Regular follow-ups with your healthcare provider, adhering to prescribed medications, and lifestyle modifications recommended by your doctor can help control these conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common symptoms of enteritis?

The symptoms of enteritis can range from mild to severe. Common signs include abdominal discomfort or pain, bloating, diarrhea, reduced appetite possibly leading to weight loss, fatigue, and mild to moderate fever.

In more severe cases, you might notice blood or mucus in your stool, which is a significant symptom requiring immediate medical attention.

How is enteritis diagnosed?

Diagnosing enteritis involves a combination of physical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging studies. These may include blood tests, stool tests, breath tests, and biopsies.

Imaging tests like an abdominal X-ray or CT scan can also be used to assess the condition of the small intestine and identify any signs of inflammation.

What are the treatments available for enteritis?

Treatment for enteritis typically depends on the underlying cause and may involve medication, dietary adjustments, and other medical interventions.

These can include rehydration, maintaining electrolyte balance, use of antibiotics or antiviral drugs, dietary adjustments, probiotics, pain relievers, and antidiarrheal medication. In severe cases, surgery might be necessary.

How can I prevent enteritis?

Enteritis can be prevented by maintaining good personal and food hygiene, managing stress effectively, leading a healthy lifestyle, understanding your food allergens, and getting vaccinated.

Additionally, if you have chronic conditions associated with enteritis, effectively managing these conditions can help prevent it.

What kind of dietary adjustments can be done to manage enteritis?

If a specific food allergy is causing your enteritis, eliminating that allergen from your diet can alleviate symptoms.

If your diet is contributing to enteritis, you may need to reduce the consumption of high-fat foods and alcohol, increase fiber intake, or adopt a specific diet, like a gluten-free diet in the case of Celiac disease.