Intestinal ischemia

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor

msBahasa Malaysia


What is intestinal ischemia?

Intestinal ischemia is a variety of conditions which occur when a blockage make the blood flow to the intestine decrease, usually in an artery. Intestinal ischemia can affect your small intestine, your large intestine (colon) or both.

Intestinal ischemia is a serious condition because it cause pain and disturb the intestinal work. In severe cases, loss of blood flow to the intestines can damage intestinal tissue and lead to death.

Intestinal ischemia is not a uncured disease. To improve the chances of recovery, it’s crucial to recognize the early symptoms and get medical help right away.

How common is intestinal ischemia?

Intestinal ischemia most often affects adults older than 60, although it can develop at any age. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of intestinal ischemia?  

Symptoms of acute intestinal ischemia may include

  • Sudden abdominal pain that may range from mild to severe
  • An urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • Frequent, forceful bowel movements
  • Abdominal tenderness or distention
  • Blood in your stool
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Fever
  • Mental confusion in older adults
  • Signs and symptoms of intestinal ischemia can develop suddenly (acute) or gradually (chronic).
  • Usually, no one set of signs and symptoms indicates intestinal ischemia, but there are some generally recognized patterns.

Symptoms of chronic intestinal ischemia

  • Abdominal cramps or fullness after eating, usually within the first hour, and lasting one to three hours
  • Abdominal pain that gets progressively worse over weeks or months
  • Fear of eating because of subsequent pain
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Bloating

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes intestinal ischemia?

  • Blood flow decrease. When the blood flow can’t meet the demand of the intestine, intestinal ischemia will occur. This shortage prevents the intestines from functioning properly.
  • Whatever the cause, diminished blood flow within your digestive tract causes cells become lack of oxygen, which causes the cells to weaken and die. If damage is severe enough, infection and eventually a hole (perforation) in the wall of the intestines can occur. If untreated, intestinal ischemia can be fatal.
  • Intestinal ischemia is often divided into categories:

Colon ischemia (ischemic colitis). This is the most common type of intestinal ischemia. It occurs when blood flow to the colon is slowed. It most often affects adults older than 60, although it can develop at any age. Some reasons can lead to this type may include:

  • Buildup of cholesterol deposits on the walls of an artery
  • Dangerously low blood pressure (hypotension) associated with heart failure, major surgery, trauma or shock
  • A blood clot in an artery supplying the colon
  • Other medical disorders that affect your blood, such as inflammation of your blood vessels, lupus or sickle cell anemia
  • Some medications, especially those that constrict blood vessels, such as some heart and migraine medications, and hormone medications, such as estrogen
  • Cocaine or methamphetamine use
  • Vigorous exercise, such as long-distance running

Acute mesenteric ischemia. This type is caused due to:

  • A blood clot that dislodges from your heart and travels through your bloodstream to block an artery. The superior mesenteric artery, which supplies oxygen-rich blood to your intestines is usually affected
  • A blockage that develops within one of the main intestinal arteries
  • Impaired blood flow resulting from low blood pressure

Mesenteric venous thrombosis.  A blood clot can develop in a vein transferring deoxygenated blood from your intestines. When the vein is blocked, blood returns in the intestines, causing swelling and bleeding. This type is caused due to:

  • Acute or chronic inflammation of your pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Abdominal infection
  • Cancers of the digestive system
  • Bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease,…
  • Disorders that make your blood more prone to clotting (hypercoagulation disorders), such as an inherited clotting disorder or taking a medication such as estrogen that can increase clotting risk
  • Trauma to your abdomen

Risk factors

What increases my risk for intestinal ischemia?

There are many risk factors for intestinal ischemia, such as:

  • Buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Blood pressure problems
  • Heart problems
  • Medications
  • Blood-clotting problems
  • Illegal drug use

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is intestinal ischemia diagnosed?

  • The patient’s past medical history is always important in intestinal ischemia, Routine blood tests
  • Colonoscopy
  • Ultrasound
  • Abdominal radiologic studies including CAT or MRI scans
  • Mesenteric angiography
  • Exploratory abdominal surgery.
  • Angiography is a special radiologic study of one’s blood vessels. Contrast material is injected through a small catheter placed into an abdominal artery or vein, after which radiologic images of the vessels are generated.

How is intestinal ischemia treated?

Colon ischemia

  • Antibiotics to treat or prevent infections
  • Treat any underlying medical condition, such as congestive heart failure or an irregular heartbeat
  • If your colon has been damaged, you may need surgery to remove the dead tissue

Acute mesenteric artery ischemia

  • Antibiotics and medications to prevent clots from establishment. Dissolve clots or dilate blood vessels.
  • Surgery may be necessary to remove a blood clot, to bypass an artery blockage, or to repair or remove a damaged section of intestine

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remediesthat can help me manage intestinal ischemia?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with intestinal ischemia:

  • Controlling risk factors, such as irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
  • Stop smoking
  • Follow a healthy diet
  • Exercise
  • Quickly treating hernias

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: August 21, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019

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