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What is Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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Eosinophilic gastroenteritis is a rare medical condition in which large numbers of specialized white blood cells called eosinophils infiltrate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. As a result, a patient typically experiences abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and problems absorbing and metabolizing nutrients. Doctors are unsure what triggers eosinophilic gastroenteritis, though people who have allergies and familial histories of GI-tract problems are more likely to acquire the condition. GI specialists can attempt to treat the condition with anti-inflammatory medication or surgical procedures to remove damaged tissue and obstructions. Maintaining a healthy diet and avoiding allergic triggers can help prevent the recurrence of symptoms.

Eosinophils are vital in fighting off bacterial and parasitic infections in the body. They also play a role in combating airborne and food allergens, triggering an inflammatory response when foreign pathogens are present. In people with eosinophilic gastroenteritis, eosinophils build up in large quantities in the lining of the GI tract, perhaps as a misguided defense against certain food allergens. Medical researchers and doctors do not know if that is indeed the cause of eosinophilic gastroenteritis, but it is likely since the majority of patients diagnosed with the condition also have persistent allergies.

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The most common symptoms of eosinophilic gastroenteritis in adults are chronic abdominal pain, bloody stools, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Metabolic functions are compromised as inflammation in the GI tract worsens, which can lead to vitamin deficiencies, malnutrition, and anemia in some patients. People under the age of 18 may experience additional health problems, including delayed onset of puberty, growth stunting, and poor muscle development. A person who experiences frequent symptoms should contact his or her doctor to check for eosinophilic gastroenteritis.

Physicians can differentiate eosinophilic gastroenteritis from other GI-tract problems by carefully evaluating symptoms and taking blood samples to check for increased levels of eosinofils. Many patients are referred to GI specialists to assess problems further. Specialists can conduct x-rays and ultrasounds to determine the location and severity of inflammation in the bowels. Most instances of gastroenteritis affect the stomach or small intestine, though serious cases can cause problems across the entire GI tract.

Once a diagnosis has been made, specialists can determine the best course of treatment. Inflammation and discomfort are typically treated with prescription oral corticosteroids. Mast cell stabilizers, medicines that prevent the release of eosinophils, are given to patients with very severe or persistent cases of gastroenteritis. In addition, individuals are generally instructed to avoid foods and substances known to trigger allergies. Since GI problems can return after initial treatment, it is important for patients to receive regular medical checkups to avoid future problems.

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