Also known as: Radiation enteropathy, Radiation-induced small bowel injury or Post-radiation enteritis
- You have chemotherapy at the same time as the radiation.
- You receive stronger doses of radiation.
- A larger area of your intestines receives radiation.
- Bleeding or mucus from the rectum
- Diarrhea or watery stools
- Feeling the need to have a bowel movement most or all of the time
- Pain in the rectal area, especially during bowel movements
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody diarrhea
- Greasy or fatty stools
- Weight loss
- Alcohol and tobacco
- Almost all milk products
- Coffee, tea, chocolate, and sodas with caffeine
- Foods containing whole bran
- Fresh and dried fruits
- Fried, greasy, or fatty foods
- Nuts and seeds
- Popcorn, potato chips, and pretzels
- Raw vegetables
- Rich pastries and baked goods
- Some fruit juices
- Strong spices
- Apple or grape juice
- Applesauce, peeled apples, and bananas
- Eggs, buttermilk, and yogurt
- Fish, poultry, and meat that has been broiled or roasted
- Mild, cooked vegetables, such as asparagus tips, green or black beans, carrots, spinach, and squash
- Potatoes that have been baked, boiled, or mashed
- Processed cheeses, such as American cheese
- Smooth peanut butter
- White bread, macaroni, or noodles
- Drugs that help decrease diarrhea, such as loperamide
- Pain medicines
- Steroid foam that coats the lining of the rectum
- Special enzymes to replace enzymes from the pancreas
- Eat foods at room temperature.
- Eat small meals more often.
- Drink plenty of fluids, up to 12 8-ounce (240 milliter) glasses every day when you have diarrhea. Some people will need fluids given through a vein (intravenous fluids).
- Medicines such as cholestyramine, diphenoxylate-atropine, loperamide, or sucralfate may help.
- You may need to consider surgery to either remove or go around (bypass) a section of damaged intestine.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered x-rays, particles, or radioactive seeds to kill cancer cells. The therapy may also damage healthy cells in the lining of the intestines.
People who have radiation therapy to the belly or pelvic area are at risk. These may include people with cervical, pancreatic, prostate, uterine, or colon and rectal cancer.
Symptoms may vary, depending on which part of the intestines received the radiation. Symptoms can be worse if:
Symptoms may occur during or shortly after or long after radiation treatment.
Changes in bowel movements may include:
Other symptoms can include:
Most of the time, these symptoms get better within 2 to 3 months after radiation treatment ends.
When symptoms become long-term (chronic), other problems may include:
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will do a physical exam and ask about your medical history.
Tests may include:
Starting a low-fiber diet on the first day of radiation treatment may help you avoid problems. The best choice of foods depends on your symptoms.
Some things can make symptoms worse, and should be avoided. These include:
Foods and drinks that are better choices include:
Your provider may have you use certain medicines such as:
Other things you can do include:
Your provider may choose to decrease your radiation for a short period of time.
There often are no good treatments for chronic radiation enteritis that is more severe.
When the abdomen receives radiation, there is always some nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In most cases, the symptoms get better within 2 to 3 months after treatment ends.
However, when this condition develops, symptoms may last for a long period of time. Long-term (chronic) enteritis is rarely curable.
Complications may include:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you are having radiation therapy or have had it in the past and are having a lot of diarrhea or stomach pain and cramping.
Kuemmerle JF. Inflammatory and anatomic diseases of the intestine, peritoneum, mesentery, and omentum. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 142.
Palta M, Willet CG, Czito BG. Radiation injury. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 40.
National Cancer Institute. Gastrointestinal complications PDQ. Updated May 12, 2015. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/constipation/GI-complications-pdq. Accessed May 24, 2016.
- Review date:
- November 5, 2016
- Reviewed by:
- Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist with Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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