What is Intestinal Ischemia?

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  • Written By: J.L. Drede
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2019
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Intestinal ischemia is a medical term that describes damage of the intestine due to diminished blood flow. Both the large and small intestine can become affected by ischemia from a variety of other medical conditions and ailments. It can be extremely painful, cause severe complications and prove to even be fatal if not treated properly.

Intestinal ischemia rarely occurs on its own. Injuries to the intestines, such as a hernia or scar tissue from surgery, can damage them and lead to blood flow being constricted. Blood clots are also common causes for ischemia of the intestines. Sometimes a clot in the heart may travel down the bloodstream before becoming lodged in an artery that supplies blood to the intestine. This is more likely in individuals who have already had heart attacks or other heart conditions. Thrombosis, a condition that narrows the arteries and/or veins of the body, can also restrict blood flow to either the large or small intestine and lead to blood flow problems. Low blood pressure, diseases of the bowel, and cancers of the digestive system can all also lead to cases of intestinal ischemia.


The primary symptom of intestinal ischemia is abdominal pain that is usually very severe and does not go away. Upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms of the condition as well. Blood may be found in the stool and bowel movements may require extreme force. Eating can sometimes make the condition even worse. Abdominal cramps and bloating after a meal are another common side effect of ischemia of the intestines.

Intestinal ischemia is a serious condition that can lead to dangerous complications. Diminished blood flow to the intestines can result in the intestines becoming permanently damaged and even dying. With dead tissue in the intestines, the only treatment is surgery. In these cases, the dead and damaged tissue is removed from the intestine, and the surgeon must attempt to connect any still healthy parts of the intestine together. Severe tissue damage or death in the intestines may make this impossible.

In these cases, a colostomy is the only option available. This requires a hole being cut in the abdomen of the patient and the healthy end of the intestine being attached directly to this hole. On the other side a pouch, usually called a colostomy bag, is attached and waste flows directly into it. Because of the negative connotations associated with this procedure, it is usually only done as a last resort.


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