Cytomegalovirus colitis is inflammation of the stomach or intestine resulting from a cytomegalovirus infection. It can cause complications in people who are immunocompromised.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus that can lead to mild illness.

Infection rates vary based on geographic location but can reach up to 100% in certain parts of the world.

In some cases, a cytomegalovirus infection can lead to CMV colitis, which is inflammation of the stomach and intestine.

CMV colitis occurs mainly in people who are immunocompromised. The following conditions and treatments can affect the immune system and make a person more vulnerable or susceptible to an infection:

  • AIDS
  • organ transplantation
  • blood cancers
  • cancer therapy
  • corticosteroid therapy
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Symptoms of CMV colitis tend to mimic other inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis. People with CMV colitis often experience gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding and diarrhea.

Other symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • fever
  • discomfort
  • weight loss

Several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing CMV colitis, including:

  • immunodeficiency
  • older age
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • exposure to antibiotics

Diagnosing CMV colitis requires lab testing since symptoms can mimic other conditions. Doctors may use the following tests to check for the virus:

  • Serologic testing: This type of testing looks for CMV antibodies (IgG) in the blood and can verify prior exposure to CMV.
  • Endoscopic evaluation: This test involves using a flexible tube with an attached camera so that a doctor can get a closer look at a person’s GI system. About 70% to 80% of people with CMV colitis have ulcers.
  • Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR): This PCR test can identify whether CMV is present in the body.
  • CMV culture: This is a highly sensitive lab test that can identify the virus.
  • CMV-specific immunohistochemistry (IHC): This IHC test checks for CMV in tissue biopsies.

Treatment for CMV colitis focuses on reducing symptoms and preventing a recurrence. Most people with CMV colitis do not require antiviral therapy.

In some cases, doctors may recommend antiviral therapy. However, there is currently not enough research to determine whether or not antiviral treatment is effective in treating CMV colitis.

Doctors may also consider surgery to treat inflammation of the bowels and stomach.

The overall outlook for CMV colitis is good. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment may help improve prognosis in people who are immunocompromised.

However, older adults and people who undergo surgery have a higher risk of dying from CMV colitis.

Possible complications resulting from CMV colitis include:

Below are some frequently asked questions.

What causes cytomegalovirus colitis?

CMV colitis occurs when a person who is immunocompromised contracts cytomegalovirus.

About 50% to 100% of people worldwide have the virus. However, it typically only causes problems in people with weakened immune systems.

What are the symptoms of cytomegalovirus colitis?

Symptoms of CMV colitis include:

  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • fever
  • discomfort
  • rectal bleeding
  • weight loss

What is the treatment for cytomegalovirus colitis?

Antiviral therapy may alleviate CMV symptoms in some people.

However, there is not enough evidence to suggest that antiviral treatment works for everyone. Doctors may also consider surgery to treat inflammation.

How do you get cytomegalovirus infection?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CMV is present in over half of adults by age 40.

However, it does not cause serious illness in people with functional immune systems.

A person can contract the virus through bodily fluids, such as:

  • saliva
  • urine
  • blood
  • tears
  • semen
  • breast milk

CMV colitis is a condition that occurs when people who are immunocompromised contract CMV. The condition causes inflammation, leading to diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and rectal bleeding.

There is currently no standard treatment for CMV colitis. However, antiviral therapy is a possible treatment. Surgery may also help treat inflammation.