Radiation enteritis


Radiation enteritis is the inflammation of the intestines resulting from radiation therapy. This condition presents symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps, particularly in individuals receiving radiation treatment for abdominal, pelvic, or rectal cancers.

While typically temporary, it can persist beyond treatment completion or even emerge months or years later. Chronic radiation enteritis can lead to complications like anemia, persistent diarrhea, or bowel obstruction. Treatment aims to manage symptoms until inflammation resolves, potentially involving interventions such as tube feeding or surgical removal of affected intestine segments in severe cases.


Symptoms of radiation enteritis encompass:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps or pain
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Pain when passing out stool
  • Pain or bleeding in the rectal area
  • Need to poop urgently
  • Decreased appetite
  • Unintentional loss of weight

Usually, these symptoms diminish within several weeks after treatment ends. Yet, in some instances, they may endure for a longer period. Persistent radiation enteritis can result in complications like anemia and bowel obstruction.

Risk factors

Patients receiving radiation therapy for abdominal and pelvic cancers are at a heightened risk of developing radiation enteritis. This condition stems from the intestinal irritation that can occur as a result of radiation therapy.

Some individuals are more vulnerable because of:

  • Additional therapies like chemotherapy that cause cell death.
  • Tissue inflammation brought on by illnesses such as pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Health conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure that reduce blood flow to the intestines.
  • Damage to the tissue from previous abdominal procedures.
  • Using tobacco in any form, including smoking.
  • Malnutrition


Diagnosing radiation enteritis typically involves a thorough review of your medical history and a physical examination. To examine the small intestine, your doctor may perform an endoscopy, using a flexible tube with a camera inserted through your throat. Alternatively, a colonoscopy may be conducted to inspect the large intestine by passing the tube through your rectum. In some cases, a capsule endoscopy, which involves swallowing a pill-sized camera, may be utilized to capture images of the intestines. Additional diagnostic procedures may include imaging tests like X-rays, Computed Tomography (CT) scans, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans.


The treatment for radiation enteritis usually centers on managing symptoms until they resolve. This condition arises from intestinal irritation following radiation therapy for cancer. Your doctor might recommend dietary changes and prescribe medications to alleviate diarrhea and pain. Antibiotics could be prescribed to tackle bacterial overgrowth.

If radiation enteritis persists, a feeding tube may be required. In rare cases, surgery might be considered to bypass the affected section of the intestine.