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Cancer Health Center

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Gastrointestinal Complications (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Radiation Enteritis



Patient examination and assessment of radiation enteritis includes the following:[6]

  1. The usual pattern of elimination.
  2. The pattern of diarrhea, including the following:
    1. Onset.
    2. Duration.
    3. Frequency, amount, and character of stools.
    4. Presence of other symptoms such as flatus, cramping, nausea, abdominal distension, tenesmus, bleeding, and rectal excoriation.
  3. The nutritional status of the patient, including the following:
    1. Height and weight.
    2. Usual eating habits, any change in eating habits, and amount of residue in diet.
    3. Signs of dehydration such as poor skin turgor, serum electrolyte imbalance, increased weakness, or fatigue.
  4. Present level of stress, coping patterns, and impact of signs and symptoms of enteritis on usual lifestyle patterns.

Medical management

Medical management includes treating diarrhea, dehydration, malabsorption, and abdominal or rectal discomfort. Symptoms usually resolve with medications, dietary changes, and rest. If symptoms become severe despite these measures, a treatment break may be warranted.

Medications may include the following:

  1. Kaopectate, an antidiarrheal agent. Dose: 30 cc to 60 cc by mouth after each loose bowel movement.
  2. Lomotil (diphenoxylate hydrochloride with atropine sulfate). Usual dose: One or two tablets by mouth every 4 hours as needed. Dose can be adjusted to individual patients and patterns of diarrhea. For example, one patient may achieve control of diarrhea with one tablet 3 times a day, while another patient may require two tablets every 4 hours. Patients are not to take more than eight tablets of Lomotil within a 24-hour period.
  3. Paregoric, an antidiarrheal agent. Usual dose: 1 teaspoon by mouth 4 times a day as needed for diarrhea. Paregoric may also be alternated with Lomotil.
  4. Cholestyramine, a bile salt sequestering agent. Dose: one package by mouth after each meal and at bedtime.
  5. Donnatal, an anticholinergic antispasmodic agent to alleviate bowel cramping. Dose: One or two tablets every 4 hours as needed.
  6. Imodium (loperamide hydrochloride), a synthetic antidiarrheal agent. Recommended initial dose: two capsules (4 mg) by mouth every 4 hours, followed by one capsule (2 mg) by mouth after each unformed stool. Daily total dose should not exceed 16 mg (eight capsules).

In addition to these medications, opioids may offer relief from abdominal pain. If proctitis is present, a steroid foam given rectally may offer relief from symptoms. Finally, if patients with pancreatic cancer are experiencing diarrhea during radiation therapy, they will be evaluated for oral pancreatic enzyme replacement, as deficiencies in these enzymes alone can cause diarrhea.

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