Intestinal ischemia happens when the arteries to the intestines are blocked or narrowed, decreasing the blood flow. It can affect the small, large or both intestines. The diminished blood flow can cause pain and permanent damage to the intestine.

Acute intestinal ischemia is an emergency case, with abrupt loss of blood flow that calls for immediate surgery.

Chronic intestinal ischemia that develops over time calls for treatment in order not to become acute or results in weight loss and starvation.



Symptoms can occur suddenly (acute) or gradually over time (chronic):


Symptoms of acute intestinal ischemia


  • Swollen abdomen
  • Sudden pain in the abdomen that can range from mild to severe
  • Frequent and forceful bowel movements and an urgent need for one
  • Blood in the stool
  • Vomiting, nausea and sickness
  • High temperature


Symptoms of chronic intestinal ischemia


  • Abdominal spasms that can last from 30 minutes after eating to 1 or 3 hours
  • Pain in the abdomen that gets worse gradually for weeks or months
  • Not eating regularly because of fear that pain will follow the meal
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Sickness and vomiting
  • Abdominal swelling



When the blood flow to the intestines is slowed down or stopped, an intestinal ischemia occurs. Because of the decreased blood flow, the cells in the digestive system lack oxygen, so they become weak and die what causes damage to the intestine.

This disease is usually divided into few categories as follows:


Colon ischemia (ischemia colitis)

Some factors that can increase the risk of colon ischemia are:


  • Atherosclerosis-accumulation of fatty deposits on the walls of an artery
  • Hypotension-very low blood pressure (related to heart failure, major surgery, trauma or shock)
  • A blood clot in an artery supplying the colon
  • Bowel obstruction caused by a hernia, scar tissue or a tumor
  • Other medical disorders that affect your blood, such as inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis), lupus or sickle cell anemia
  • Surgery involving the heart or blood vessels, or the digestive or gynecological systems
  • Some medications that shrink blood vessels, such as some heart, migraine and hormone medications
  • Cocaine or methamphetamine use


Acute mesenteric ischemia

Acute mesenteric ischemia comes unexpectedly affecting the small intestine. It can happen because of:


  • A blood clot that blocks an artery that leads to the small intestine.
  • A blockage in an intestinal artery that slows or stops blood flow, often as a result of accumulating fatty deposits along the wall of an artery (atherosclerosis).
  • Low blood pressure because of any kind of shock, heart failure, certain medications or chronic kidney failure. (It is more common in people suffering from another serious disease.)


Mesenteric venous thrombosis

It arises after a blood clot develops in the vein. It might appear as a result from:

  • Acute or chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Infection of the abdomen
  • Cancer of the digestive system
  • Bowel diseases
  • Some disorders that make your blood more susceptible to clotting
  • Abdominal trauma
  • Some hormone therapy


Risk factors

Factors that may increase the risk are:


  • Fatty deposits in the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Blood pressure (too high or too low)
  • Heart problems (congestive heart failure or an irregular heartbeat)
  • Medications, (birth control pills and therapies that cause your blood vessels to expand or contract, and some pills used for allergies and migraine)
  • Blood-clotting problems
  • Illegal drug use



Complications that may happen are:

  • Death of intestinal tissue
  • Narrowing of the colon



A patient should pay attention to the following preventive measures:


  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight going on a diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Control other health problems.