What Is Duodenitis?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on September 10, 2023
4 min read

Duodenitis is an intestinal condition caused by inflammation in your duodenum lining. It can sometimes happen along with gastritis, which is inflammation in your stomach lining. When they happen together, they are called gastroduodenitis.

The duodenum is the upper part of your small intestine that’s located just past your stomach. This part of your digestive tract is responsible for breaking down and digesting your food.

It receives chyme from your stomach, which is a semi-fluid ball of partially digested food fibers, and breaks it down with enzymes and intestinal juices. These enzymes and juices are secreted from your gallbladder, liver, and pancreas into your intestine.

The duodenum also releases hormones to help with digestion. These include:

Secretin.Secretin neutralizes acid in the duodenum by telling your body to move sodium bicarbonate and water to the intestine to dilute the pH level.

This is important for pancreatic enzymes that are released into the duodenum to help digest starches and fats. They need the right pH level to work properly.

Cholecystokinin. This hormone is released when you eat protein and fat. Protein digestion happens in your stomach, so this hormone stops your stomach from emptying too soon. It also stimulates your gallbladder to release bile, which helps break down fats into fatty acids.

As the food is digested, the vitamins and nutrients are taken up by your blood vessels through your small intestine and into other organs where they are converted into usable forms for your body.

Most nutrient absorption happens in another part of your small intestine called the jejunum, but iron is absorbed in the duodenum.

Inflammation in the lining of your duodenum can cause problems with digestion and affect how you absorb nutrients from your food. 

Sometimes, people have duodenitis without any symptoms. Other people have digestive symptoms like:

Severe cases of duodenitis can cause sores in the lining called ulcers. This is sometimes called peptic duodenitis.

There are a few causes of duodenitis.

Infection. The most common cause of duodenitis is a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. Most people have some H. pylori in the stomach. You usually pick up this bacteria as a child and carry it for the rest of your life.

Sometimes it can get out of balance and Some people get H. pylori in the stomach, which can cause infections and disease, usually a peptic stomach ulcer. The bacteria can move out of the stomach and into your duodenum, which can cause peptic ulcers here, too.

Overusing pain medications. Using too many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, like aspirin or ibuprofen can cause ulcers, bleeding, and duodenitis.

Alcohol and smoking. Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and chewing betel quid are all linked to ulcers and duodenitis.

Celiac disease. This autoimmune disease causes your body to make immune proteins against gluten, a protein in wheat. If you have Celiac disease and eat gluten, parts of your intestine will become inflamed and damaged and can cause duodenitis.

Stomach acid. Your stomach acid helps with digestion by creating the right pH for other enzymes to work. If you have too much stomach acid, you can get heartburn and ulcers.

Too much stomach acid can also end up in your duodenum, which can cause inflammation in the lining or duodenitis.

Other intestinal diseases. Other diseases like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, are also associated with duodenitis.

If your doctor thinks you have duodenitis, they will do some imaging tests and blood work. These can include:

  • Upper endoscopy, which is a camera that goes down your throat and into your duodenum to take biopsies to see if there are any H. pylori 
  • Stool samples to test for other infections
  • Blood tests to test for Celiac disease
  • Upper gastrointestinal series, which uses X-ray tests to examine your upper digestive tract and breathing tests to check for H. pylori

Treatment for duodenitis depends on the cause. Your doctor might prescribe:

If you take NSAIDs for heart problems, talk to your doctor before you stop taking them. If you take them for pain, talk to your doctor about different options.

At times, duodenitis can cause other serious problems, like bleeding. If you have any of the following signs, get medical help l right away:

  • Throwing up blood, or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
  • Black, tarry stool
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Fast weight loss
  • Pain that doesn’t get better
  • Fever

Generally, duodenitis gets better with treatment, so talk to your doctor if your gut is bothering you.