Intestinal ischemia


Intestinal ischemia, marked by a reduction in blood supply to the intestines, may stem from factors like arterial blockages or low blood pressure, resulting in an overall decrease in blood flow. This condition can affect the small intestine, large intestine (colon), or both. The ensuing insufficient blood flow robs cells in the digestive system of vital oxygen, transforming intestinal ischemia into a severe condition that triggers pain and disrupts normal intestinal function. In severe cases, this compromised blood flow can cause harm to the intestinal tissue, potentially leading to fatal outcomes.

Fortunately, there are treatments available for intestinal ischemia. Early identification of symptoms and prompt medical intervention are essential to enhance the chances of recovery.” rewrite in two paragraph


Intestinal ischemia can manifest suddenly (acute) or gradually (chronic), with symptoms varying among individuals. While the signs may differ, certain common patterns indicate the possibility of intestinal ischemia.

Sudden (acute) intestinal ischemia:

  • Abrupt belly pain: Ranging from mild to severe.
  • Urgent bowel movements: A sudden, compelling need.
  • Forceful bowel movements: Frequent and intense.
  • Abdominal tenderness/bloating: Feeling swollen or tender.
  • Blood in stool: A concerning sign.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Potential accompanying symptoms.
  • Mental confusion (in older adults): An alarming indicator.

Gradual (chronic) intestinal ischemia:

  • Post-meal discomfort: Cramps or fullness, 30 minutes after eating, lasting 1 to 3 hours.
  • Progressive abdominal pain: Developing over weeks or months.
  • Apprehension about eating: Fear due to post-eating pain.
  • Unintended weight loss: A concerning and unintentional change.
  • Digestive issues: Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and bloating.

Immediate medical attention is essential if you experience sudden, intense abdominal pain, especially if it prevents you from finding a comfortable position or staying still, as this may indicate a medical emergency. Additionally, if you have other concerning signs or symptoms, it is advisable to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation and appropriate guidance. Recognizing the urgency of severe abdominal pain and addressing other worrying symptoms promptly is crucial for effective medical intervention and care.


Intestinal ischemia occurs when there is a decrease or cessation of blood flow through the major arteries and veins that supply and drain blood from the intestines. This condition can result from various causes, including:

  • Arterial blockage caused by a blood clot
  • Arterial narrowing due to the accumulation of fatty deposits, such as cholesterol (atherosclerosis)
  • Low blood pressure leading to a general reduction in blood flow
  • Less commonly, blockage in a vein

Intestinal ischemia is typically categorized based on the specific part of the intestines it affects. Ischemic colitis pertains to the large intestine, while types affecting the small intestine include acute mesenteric ischemia, chronic mesenteric ischemia, and ischemia caused by mesenteric venous thrombosis.

Colon ischemia (ischemic colitis)

This type of intestinal ischemia, the most common form, occurs when blood flow to a portion of the colon is hindered. Reduced blood flow can result from conditions such as dangerously low blood pressure, blood clots, severe atherosclerosis, bowel twisting, hernia-related complications, bowel enlargement, and certain medical disorders affecting blood vessels. Additionally, medications that constrict blood vessels, hormonal medications like birth control pills, and factors like cocaine or methamphetamine use, as well as intense exercise, can contribute to the risk of colon ischemia.

Acute mesenteric ischemia

Mesenteric ischemia occurs when narrowed or blocked arteries restrict blood flow to the small intestine, leading to potential permanent damage. Acute mesenteric ischemia can result from a sudden loss of blood flow due to a blood clot, typically from the heart, blocking the superior mesenteric artery. This is often associated with conditions like congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, or a heart attack. Another cause is a blockage in one of the main intestinal arteries, usually caused by atherosclerosis, and is more common in people with chronic intestinal ischemia. Additionally, impaired blood flow can occur due to low blood pressure from factors such as shock, heart failure, certain medications, or chronic kidney failure. This form, known as nonocclusive ischemia, is prevalent in individuals with serious illnesses and some degree of atherosclerosis.

Chronic mesenteric ischemia

Chronic mesenteric ischemia is a condition characterized by the gradual buildup of fatty deposits on artery walls, atherosclerosis being the primary culprit. Commonly referred to as intestinal angina, this condition leads to reduced blood flow to the intestines, particularly after meals. Treatment may not be necessary until at least two out of the three major arteries supplying the intestines are significantly narrowed or fully obstructed. A potential and serious complication of chronic mesenteric ischemia involves the development of blood clots within narrowed arteries, leading to sudden blockages and the onset of acute mesenteric ischemia.

Ischemia due to mesenteric venous thrombosis

Ischemia in the small intestines occurs when blood flow is obstructed, often due to a blood clot forming in a vein that drains blood from the intestines. This blockage leads to blood backup, resulting in intestinal swelling and bleeding. Potential causes include pancreatitis, abdominal infections, digestive system cancers, bowel diseases (such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or diverticulitis), hypercoagulation disorders, certain medications like estrogen that elevate clotting risk, and abdominal injuries.

Risk factors

Factors that can elevate the likelihood of developing intestinal ischemia include:

  • Age: Individuals over the age of 50 are at a higher risk of experiencing intestinal ischemia.
  • Atherosclerosis: Accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries, particularly if you have a history of related conditions like coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, or carotid artery disease, can heighten the risk of intestinal ischemia.
  • Smoking: Tobacco consumption, especially through cigarettes, increases the susceptibility to intestinal ischemia.
  • Blood-clotting disorders: Conditions that predispose individuals to blood clots, such as sickle cell anemia and the Factor V Leiden mutation, can increase the likelihood of intestinal ischemia.
  • Cardiovascular issues: Conditions like congestive heart failure or irregular heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation, can raise the risk of intestinal ischemia. Diseases causing inflammation of veins and arteries (vasculitis) may also contribute to the increased risk.
  • Medications: Certain drugs, including birth control pills and medications that affect blood vessel dilation or constriction (like some allergy and migraine medications), may elevate the risk of intestinal ischemia.
  • Other health conditions: Having conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol can be associated with a higher risk of intestinal ischemia.
  • Recreational drug use: The use of substances like cocaine and methamphetamine has been linked to an increased risk of intestinal ischemia.