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An Overview of Hemorrhagic Colitis: A Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis

written by: Lashan Clarke • edited by: Stephanie Mojica • updated: 3/16/2011

This article will describe the human form of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis called hemorrhagic colitis. This medical condition is caused by an infection with the bacteria known as E. coli.

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    An Introduction

    The most common form of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis in humans is hemorrhagic colitis. This is a form a of gastroenteritis caused by the bacteria E. coli O157:H7, which has results in a bacterial infection. This is the most well known strains of E. coli, but other strains of this bacteria enters can enter the intestine and multiply to cause infection. It produces a toxin that causes an inflammation of the lining of the intestine. When this happens the person first experiences cramping pain and diarrhea, but with prolonged exposure to the bacteria and its toxin the symptoms worsen.

    Unfortunately this infection can occur in anyone though it is more severe in babies and the elderly. Usually the person can develop exposure to the bacteria by eating food that has been contaminated. For example some foods associated with E. coli infection are undercooked beef and unpasteurized milk. However, it is possible to transmit this infection from person to person. The infection is also transmitted from contaminated water. However, there have been no cases of vector transmission of E. coli infection.

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    Signs and Symptoms of Gastroenteritis

    When the person first experiences this infection they will naturally think that they have food poisoning. This is partially true, but the toxin produced by E. coli can cause a more severe infection than the usual bacteria that causes food poisoning. Initially the signs and symptoms of the disease will start with a pain in the abdomen that is followed by cramps and diarrhea. This can last anywhere from at least one day to up to eight days. As the infection progresses, it can cause bleeding from the walls of the intestine. In some cases the bleeding is quite severe and the person can develop anemia or reduced blood iron. This anemia can progress to cause a situation known hemolytic-uremic syndrome that causes a kidney failure. Hemolytic-uremic is a complication of E. coli infection and the symptoms of this can include increasing fever, stroke and brain damage.

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    Diagnosis of Hemorrhagic Colitis

    Confirmation of this infection with E. coli is based on several factors. The person will go to their doctor and complain of experiencing painful stomach cramps and diarrhea. The doctor will need a sample of stool to test for the presence of E. coli. The doctor will also discover that there is blood in the stool. This bloody diarrhea is quite severe and can be the first symptom that the person goes to their doctor for. If the situation is quite bad, the doctor may even request a colonoscopy. In most instances, the doctor will try to find a differential diagnosis that is causing the bloody diarrhea other than E. coli if he suspects an underlying cause.

    If the infection with E. coli is allowed to progress untreated, it can become quite serious and the person will experience fever and dehydration. The main task of the doctor will be to treat the person’s symptoms as there is no proper antibiotics for treatment of E. coli O157: H7 The doctor will try to restore balance to the person’s homeostasis. In some instances, hospitalization might be necessary. In cases where there is kidney involvement, the doctor will assess if the person needs kidney dialysis treatment.

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    References

    Merck Manual Home Edition: http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/sec09/ch122/ch122b.html

    MedicineNet.com: http://www.medicinenet.com/e_coli__0157h7/article.htm