Ischemic Colitis

What is Ischemic Colitis?

Ischemic colitis is a condition that happens when a portion of the large intestine loses, or has restricted blood flow. This condition is usually caused by blood vessels that have narrowed or become blocked. The reduced blood flow does not allow enough oxygen into the intestines to keep the tissue of the digestive system alive.

Ischemic colitis can affect any part of the colon. However, it is most commonly found in the large intestine. The condition is easy to misdiagnose because it mimics many other digestive issues. The condition has been known to heal on its own in the majority of cases. However, some people need medication in order to treat the disorder and prevent infection from the reduced blood flow to tissues. If the colon has been damaged, it is possible that surgery may be required.

What are the Symptoms of Ischemic Colitis?

The symptoms of ischemic colitis can be easy to overlook or dismiss as a digestive upset or other condition of the digestive system.

Symptoms include

  • Pain and tenderness in the stomach
  • Cramping in the stomach
  • Maroon colored, or bright red colored stool. In severe cases, there can be a passage of blood with no stool present.
  • The urgent need to use the bathroom
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

There are risks of complications developing due to lack of blood flow. However, people who suffer from symptoms on the right side of the stomach have more of a risk of developing complications. This is because the arteries that are on the right side of the belly supply oxygen to the small intestine, and these arteries can become blocked too. The pain is also known to be worse if the small intestine suffers from reduced blood flow.

When the small intestine is involved, the blockage is more capable of causing tissue death. Tissue death in the small intestines can lead to a condition known as sepsis, or a full body infection. This quickly becomes a life threatening situation and surgery is needed to remove the damaged part of the intestine, as well as restore blood flow to the remaining portion.

Ischemic Colitis Causes

Ischemic Colitis (IC) is a condition of the large intestine that occurs when the blood flow is reduced to an area of that organ temporarily. Typically, this disease affects people over the age of 50. Often, the patient will have another vascular condition such as peripheral artery disease that is causing the hardening of the arteries in the colon, which results in the loss of blood flow.

Other chronic conditions and illnesses can lead to Ischemic Colitis as well. Diseases like diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis have been linked to the onset of IC. The presence of other cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and low blood pressure put the patient at even greater risk of developing Ischemic Colitis. Chronic constipation and excessive use of laxatives have also been linked to Ischemic Colitis, as has the abuse of cocaine and methamphetamine. Women are more likely to develop the condition than men.

How is Ischemic Colitis Treated?

The treatment for ischemic colitis will depend on how severe you condition is, and the portion of the intestine that is suffering from reduced blood flow, or total loss of blood flow. The symptoms of a mild case of ischemic colitis diminish after a few days.

Treatments include

  • Antibiotics
  • IV fluids
  • Treat any underlying medical condition
  • Avoid medications that restrict your blood flow

Even though most cases of ischemic colitis resolve on their own, cases where severe symptoms are present may not. If your doctor has determined that there is damaged tissue, you may need to have surgery.


  • Remove any dead tissue left behind
  • Repair a small hole in your colon from the lack of blood flow
  • Complete a bypass for a blocked intestinal artery
  • Remove any part of the colon that narrowed due to restricted blood flow, became scarred, or has closed enough to cause a blockage.

If you have an underlying heart condition, or low blood pressure, you are more likely to require surgery to repair a damaged portion of your colon, or restore blood flow to the affected area.

Ischemic Colitis Prevention

Ischemic Colitis is the direct result of hardening of the arteries of the colon, therefore the best preventive measures rest in avoiding cardiovascular disease altogether. A healthy lifestyle that involves regular exercise would certainly be preventative. A well-balanced, nutritious diet that includes recommended amounts of fiber can help maintain the general health of the colon. Limiting sugar intake to prevent the development of diabetes can prevent IC, as well as a whole host of other conditions that can lead to Ischemic Colitis. Preventive measures would also include avoiding drugs and drug abuse, as well as the over-reliance on chemical laxatives. Controlling contributing conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or high blood pressure could help prevent the onset of IC. While Ischemic Colitis may not be entirely preventable, limiting risk factors and maintaining general good health can greatly reduce the likelihood of its development.