Intestinal Ischemia

What is Intestinal Ischemia?

Intestinal ischemia is a term that is used to describe conditions that affect the blood supply to the intestines. When the blood supply to part of the intestine is blocked or otherwise constricted or limited, it can cause serious and even dangerous conditions. Intestinal ischemia is a condition that can occur in the large intestine (the colon) as well as the small intestine.

There are many potential causes for intestinal ischemia. The arteries to the intestines could become blocked by a blood clot or could narrow due to plaque buildups in the arteries caused by high cholesterol or an arterial disease. A hernia could also be a possible cause of intestinal ischemia and adhesions from past trauma or surgeries to the area could cause scar tissue to develop and block blood flow to the intestines. Low blood pressure can also contribute to intestinal ischemia.

What are the Symptoms of Intestinal Ischemia?

Intestinal ischemia can cause numerous symptoms. Abdominal pain, discomfort, and feelings of abdominal fullness and pressure can all be signs of intestinal ischemia. Experiencing a sudden and urgent need to have a bowel movement on several occasions can also be an indicator of this condition.

A person with intestinal ischemia may also suffer from other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or even bloody stool. Fevers also sometimes occur with intestinal ischemia.

Intestinal Ischemia Causes

There are many causes behind this intestinal condition. The main cause is a lack of blood flow in the main arteries that bring blood to the small intestines. In some cases, the blood flow is severely restricted. In others, it stops completely. This can be caused by a blood clot blocking the artery or by the artery narrowing because of deposits that build up inside. A high cholesterol level in the blood can create such a blockage. Blockages can also be created inside veins, but this is less common than in arteries.

When too little blood can get through the arteries, not enough oxygen can get to the cells of the digestive system. When this happens, the cells get weaker and eventually die. With severe damage to the area, a hole can be created in the intestine. It is also possible for infections and gangrene to set in. Age is a major risk factor for this condition, with people over 60 being more likely to develop it. Having low blood pressure, a bowel obstruction that creates tumor or scarring and certain medications can all make this condition more likely. A twisting of the bowel, a hernia that traps intestinal contents, lupus and blood vessel inflammation are all risk factors of this condition. Abdominal trauma and illegal drug use can also contribute.

How is Intestinal Ischemia Treated?

When intestinal ischemia is thought to be caused by an inflammatory condition or infection, IV fluids and antibiotics may be effective treatments that can resolve the condition. Changing medications to avoid any prescriptions that constrict the blood vessels and arteries can also help as well as using prescription medications to treat arterial conditions, high cholesterol, and low blood pressure.

However, intestinal ischemia can require surgery to be resolved. In some cases of this condition, a portion of the intestine becomes so badly damaged that it needs to be removed because it is necrotic (dead tissue). Surgery to bypass blocked arteries may also be effective and angioplasty is also an option to use a balloon to inflate or expand narrowed arteries.

Intestinal Ischemia Prevention

Controlling some of the conditions that can lead to intestinal ischemia is the best form of prevention. If you have high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat or a high cholesterol level, treating these conditions can prevent this problem. If you are a smoker, quitting can reduce your risk of developing it. Eating a diet that is poor in nutrition can lead to this condition, so eating a well-balanced diet that is heavy on plants and low in fat can help prevent it.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
March 08, 2018
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