Radiation enteritis  
 
  

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Radiation enteritis

Definition

Radiation enteritis is swelling (inflammation) of the lining of the small intestine due to radiation therapy, a type of cancer treatment.

Alternative Names

Radiation enteropathy; Radiation-induced small bowel injury

Causes

Anyone with cancer that requires radiation therapy to the belly area is at risk. This may include persons with cervical, uterine, or rectal cancer.

If the damage lasts only a short time, it is called acute radiation enteritis. If damage persists and causes long-standing inflammation in the intestine, it is called chronic radiation enteritis.

Chronic radiation enteritis results in long-term diarrhea.

Symptoms

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history. Sometimes, your doctor may order a colonoscopy or upper endoscopy to look at the lining of intestine directly. Biopsies of suspicious areas may also be taken during the procedure.

Treatment

If the cancer was found early and enteritis symptoms are happening during radiation therapy, it may be possible to stop or reduce the dosage of radiation for a short period of time. It is important for you to report all symptoms to your doctor so adjustments can be made as soon as possible to prevent permanent damage.

Unfortunately, there often are no good treatments for chronic radiation enteritis. The best approach is to control the symptoms. This includes eating small frequent meals and taking anti-diarrheal or anti-spasmodic agents.

Outlook (Prognosis)

When the abdomen is radiated, there is always some degree of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In most cases, the symptoms are self-limiting and resolve when the treatments are completed. However, in the rare cases where this condition develops, symptoms may persist indefinitely.

Possible Complications

  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Weight loss

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you are undergoing radiation therapy or have had radiation in the past and are experiencing a lot of diarrhea.

Prevention

By limiting the amount of radiation given to the intestines if possible, you can avoid radiation enteritis.




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