Radiation enteritis care at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic doctors work as a team to provide whole-person care to those with radiation enteritis.

Diagnosis at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic doctors review your medical history and perform a physical exam in order to better understand your condition.

Additional tests and procedures may be used to understand the extent of your radiation enteritis, including:

  • Endoscopy. During an endoscopy, your doctor passes a long, thin tube (endoscope) down your throat and into your esophagus. The tube is equipped with a camera. Endoscopy allows your doctor to inspect your stomach and the beginning of your small intestine.
  • Colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, your doctor passes a long, thin tube through your rectum and into your colon. The tube is equipped with a camera. Colonoscopy allows your doctor to inspect your colon for abnormalities and areas of inflammation.
  • Capsule endoscopy. During a capsule endoscopy, you swallow a pill-sized camera that takes pictures as it passes through your digestive system. A capsule endoscopy allows your doctor to inspect your small intestine, which is difficult to access with other tests, such as endoscopy and colonoscopy.
  • Enteroscopy. During enteroscopy, your doctor uses a camera-equipped scope that's designed to reach deeper into your small intestine to look for signs of radiation enteritis.
  • CT and MRI. These imaging tests may show changes in the small intestine that suggest radiation enteritis. CT and MRI are usually done before a capsule endoscopy.

Treatment at Mayo Clinic

Radiation enteritis is often temporary. Your signs and symptoms may subside in the weeks after your treatment ends. During this time, your doctor may recommend treatments to relieve your signs and symptoms. If your radiation enteritis persists, your doctor may recommend other treatments.

If you experience signs and symptoms of radiation enteritis, your doctor may recommend:

  • Anti-diarrheal medications
  • Dietary changes, such as reducing your intake of dairy products, fatty foods and high-fiber foods
  • Pain medications to relieve pain of inflammation

Radiation enteritis that persists after treatment or that develops months or years after treatment is called chronic radiation enteritis. Treatment for chronic radiation enteritis is similar to treatments used for temporary radiation enteritis, but may also include:

  • Nutritional support. Inflammation in your small intestine may reduce your body's ability to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. Nutritional support in the form of tube feeding (home enteral nutrition) or infusions of nutrients into a vein (home parenteral nutrition) may help make sure you get the energy and nutrients you need.
  • Antibiotics. Inflammation caused by radiation may lead to a bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine that may result in bloating and diarrhea. Bacterial overgrowth can occur if the bacteria that normally live in the large intestine grow in the small intestine. Antibiotics can control bacterial overgrowth.
  • Surgery. In rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the affected intestine or to construct a way for waste to avoid that section (intestinal bypass). Surgery is generally used when other alternatives are exhausted, since surgery carries a risk of complications.
Aug. 12, 2017
  1. Yeo CJ, et al., eds. Radiation enteritis. In: Shackelford's Surgery of the Alimentary Tract. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2013. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 1, 2017.
  2. Roberts I. Diagnosis and management of chronic radiation enteritis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 1, 2017.
  3. Gastrointestinal complications (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/constipation/GI-complications-hp-pdq. Accessed Feb. 1, 2017.
  4. Riggin EA. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 6, 2016.