Mesenteric Ischemia

What is Mesenteric Ischemia?

When something blocks the blood flow to part of the intestines, the resulting condition is known as Mesenteric Ischemia. It most commonly occurs as an acute attack brought on by a blood clot or a twist in the intestines, but chronic conditions also exist that are linked to blockages in the arteries passing through the abdomen.

Both acute and chronic types can result in life-threatening gangrene when the tissue that is cut off from the blood supply dies and begins to break down inside the body.

What are the Symptoms of Mesenteric Ischemia?

Severe pain in the abdomen is the main sign of mesenteric ischemia, especially following gastrointestinal surgery or an injury in that area. Chronic cases tend to cause recurring diarrhea, but it’s also linked to acute outbreaks as well.

Vomiting is more common in acute cases because of the sudden shock to the digestive system when part of the intestine shuts down. Some patients experience no pain or other symptoms at all until passing out from the shock of internal gangrene, but this is rare.

Mesenteric Ischemia Causes

There are two kinds of mesenteric ischemia. The first, acute mesenteric ischemia, is caused by a blood clot that blocks the blood flow in one of the body’s mesenteric arteries. The clots start out in the heart, before traveling to the arteries. The condition is more prevalent with people who experience abnormal heart rhythms or in those who suffer from heart disease.

Chronic mesenteric ischemia is produced by a hardening of the arteries, as atherosclerosis slows the flow of blood through the arteries. The process begins when plaque builds up along the artery walls, causing the artery to stiffen. The flow of blood is then restricted by the narrower space within the artery. If this condition goes untreated, blood flow may be stopped altogether as a result of continued plaque build-up.

In either case, mesenteric ischemia can cause the patient to experience severe stomach pain and unexplained weight loss.

How is Mesenteric Ischemia Treated?

Controlling chronic and acute cases triggered by hardened arteries requires the same lifestyle changes you would make for other forms of atherosclerosis or to prevent heart disease.

Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, controlling your blood sugar, and lowering your cholesterol levels and blood pressure all go a long way in maintaining healthy blood flow. If the problem is caused by blood clots, you may need surgery to remove the clot or medication to prevent future issues.

Surgery is usually only necessary once gangrene has set in and certain parts of the intestine must be removed. Antibiotics are also essential in these cases to prevent septicemia.

Mesenteric Ischemia Prevention

Preventing mesenteric ischemia from occurring is fairly simple with healthy heart practices. One of the most important things people can do is to quit smoking, as tobacco smoke harms the arteries and contributes to the buildup of plaque. Combined with high blood pressure, obesity, unhealthy cholesterol levels, or uncontrolled diabetes, cigarette smoking significantly increases the chances of developing mesenteric ischemia.

As suggested, another key factor is keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control. A balanced and nutritional diet can go a long way toward maintaining a healthy body chemistry. Equally important is stress management and maintaining a good weight. For obese individuals, losing a few pounds can go a long way toward reducing the risk of developing mesenteric ischemia. Additionally, those diagnosed with diabetes can greatly reduce the risk of contracting mesenteric ischemia by keeping their blood sugar levels managed, which may also be accomplished through a change in lifestyle habits.

Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
March 07, 2018