The human body is made to adapt with many environments which enables humans to survive in many conditions. This also answers how our ancestors are able to live throughout different eras and living conditions. There are many systems functioning in the human body. You might want to ask a doctor if you feel sick and unable to feel well with medications bought from the pharmacy or any home remedy. In this article, we will be learning about a disease known as enterocolitis.
Before going further on enterocolitis, you might want to know a bit more about the digestive system as it is related to the disease. Digestive system is made up of organs that digest food and liquids. It also helps absorption of nutrients and eliminating waste. The human digestive system includes mouth, throat, food pipe or oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestine along with rectum and anus. There are many organs involved in the digestive system.
Enteritis is inflammation of the small intestine whereas colitis is inflammation of colons. Thus, enterocolitis is the inflammation of the small intestine and colon. Enterocolitis can affect both adults and infants. Enterocolitis is divided into different types:
- Necrotizing enterocolitis- Most common in premature newborns or infants with low birth weight. It is not understood the exact cause for this type of enterocolitis. Some suggest due to the underdeveloped immune system, making them susceptible to bacterial infection. Others suggest the lack of blood flow to the bowels causing inflammation from the bacterial infection getting worse. Symptoms include bloated or discoloured abdomen, bloody stools, diarrhoea and vomiting. Infants may have symptoms associated with bacterial infection such as fever and tiredness.
- Antibiotic associated enterocolitis- Enterocolitis that develops after an antibiotic course. This is due to the overgrowth of Clostridium difficile that releases toxin into the body. These toxins cause inflammation to the inner wall of intestines. Symptoms such as cramps, bloating, severe stomach pain and tiredness are among the symptoms. This type of enterocolitis may progress into pseudomembranous enterocolitis.
- Pseudomembranous enterocolitis- Typically occur due to bacterial infection or after taking antibiotics. Symptoms include persistent watery diarrhoea with foul smell, painful cramping and fever
- Hemorrhagic enterocolitis- It is specifically caused by E. coli with a particular strain known as enterohemorrhagic E.coli (EHEC) known to produce Shiga toxins. Patients are likely to have bloody diarrhoea (dysentery alongside fever and severe abdominal pain.
- Food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES)- an allergic reaction typically present in the first 2 years of life. It causes an inflammatory immune response to the intestinal lining. Most common triggers are first food such as dairy and soy. Others include rice, oat, barley, peas, sweet potatoes and chicken.
- Hirschsprung-associated enterocolitis- Common complication of Hirschsprung disease, a birth defect affecting the large intestine caused by the missing nerve cells in the lining of the large intestine, typically in one segment. Blockage caused by the stool that is unable to move due to absence of the muscle contraction of the intestine, produces the perfect medium for overgrowth bacteria.
- Neutropenic enterocolitis- Mainly occurs in patients on intensive chemotherapy that causes suppression of the patient’s immune system. It often occurs in severely neutropenic (low count of neutrophil which is a type of white blood cells) patients.
Since there are many kinds of enterocolitis and symptoms that seem similar to one another, it can be difficult to know which type a person is experiencing. Healthcare providers may not immediately know which part of the intestines are affected but they would normally be able to suspect there is inflammation to the intestine and colon based on physical signs and symptoms. To find the cause of the symptoms, healthcare providers typically order tests such as blood tests and imaging tests to identify the information related to the condition. Sample of stool may be asked by a healthcare provider for a stool test. Blood test and stool test can help identify the specific infections underlying the enterocolitis.
Treatment will depend on the cause. In general, patients with enterocolitis will receive fluid replacement therapy to treat dehydration caused by diarrhoea and vomiting. Other medications such as pain relief and corticosteroid may help to alleviate symptoms. In severe cases, surgery may be needed. It is important for patients with enterocolitis to get the right and prompt medical attention. When left untreated, it can cause many complications that can affect a person’s ability to have a normal life. Common complications include tissue death of the intestine, scar tissue that causes the intestine to narrow and breaking or tearing of the intestinal lining. The most terrifying complication is infection that spreads to the bloodstream and causes sepsis.
You may wonder if enterocolitis is a serious condition. Without a doubt, yes, enterocolitis is a serious medical problem. As a matter of fact, it can be life-threatening. This is especially true in babies and those with immunocompromised conditions or weak immune systems. Since symptoms associated with enterocolitis can be similar to other diseases affecting the digestive system, it is best to get it checked by doctors.