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Enteritis refers to swelling and irritation of the small intestine. This part of the intestine connects the colon or large intestine to the stomach and is split into three sections, called the duodenum, jejunum and ileum. Irritation may occur in any or all of the sections and is most frequently caused by bacterial or viral illness. Long-term swelling that is not caused by infection is called chronic enteritis, and it may result from conditions affecting the intestinal tract, like Crohn's or celiac disease.
A medical professional may suspect enteritis when a patient experiences discomfort in the abdomen, diarrhea, and bloating of the abdomen due to excess gas. Occasionally, bowel movements are black, signifying internal bleeding. This fourth symptom, called hematochezia, may be misdiagnosed if the patient is taking medications that naturally dye the stools black for several days.
Surprisingly, this condition is not associated with nausea or vomiting. When stomach upset is present, along with the four main symptoms, the condition is referred to as gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis may have exactly the same causes but results in slightly different symptoms.
Most cases are caused by viral illnesses. These cases tend to also have symptoms like minor fever and are usually over within a few days. Viral illnesses tend to require rest and proper intake of fluids to restore a patient to health. Any illness that causes diarrhea needs to be treated by increasing the patient's intake of water and other fluids to prevent dehydration.
Bacteria responsible for enteritis usually enter the body through improperly prepared food. Common bacteria responsible for this condition are salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. When more than one person gets sick after eating the same food from the same source, bacteria is usually suspected. When symptoms last for longer than two days, the patients should see a healthcare professional, since E. coli and listeria can both result in serious complications. Treatment is usually antibiotics and careful checks to rule out complications.
Chronic enteritis may be caused by various conditions affecting the intestinal tract, and the treatment varies depending upon the cause. Some forms may result from exposure to parasites, for example, and extended cases of travelers' diarrhea and/or drinking water from streams are usually considered possible causes. These are diagnosed by evaluating stool samples and can only be cured by taking anti-parasitic medications.
Other causes of chronic intestinal irritation are conditions that may require complex treatments. Crohn's disease, for example, can affect the entire intestinal tract and may require surgeries to reduce inflammation. Celiac disease, on the other hand, is a persistent inability to digest gluten found in wheat flours. Usually, dietary modification can control this condition.