What is Mesenteric Ischemia?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2019
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The intestines are greatly supplied with blood from three major arteries known as the mesenteric arteries. When there is a blockage in one or more of these arteries, intestinal blood flow will lessen considerably or completely stop. Mesenteric ischemia is the name of the condition that occurs when this happens. The loss of intestinal blood circulation can lead to a life-threatening situation. As a result, individuals suspected to have mesenteric ischemia should get immediate medical help.

Mesenteric ischemia most commonly affects the small intestines. One cause of this condition can be atherosclerosis. With atherosclerosis, deposits of fats build up in one or more of the intestinal mesenteric arteries. This can cause the arteries to become narrow, which can greatly restrict sufficient blood flow. The deposits can eventually lead to a complete mesenteric artery blockage.

Sometimes a person can develop mesenteric ischemia due to a reason unrelated to the intestinal arteries. For instance, low blood pressure can be another cause of this condition. There are many reasons why a person may have low blood pressure. In many cases, heart disease can cause an abnormally low pressure. Individuals who go into shock and suffer from chronic illness such as kidney disease may also be more prone to a lower than average blood pressure.


The blood supply to the intestines may also be interrupted due to blood clots. It is possible for a blood clot from any part of the body to break away and journey through the blood. If the clot ends up in any of the mesenteric arteries, the blood flow of the entire artery could become compromised. As a result of the clots, mesenteric ischemia can develop.

One mesenteric ischemia symptom can be intense abdominal pain that may appear very suddenly. The pain may be followed by diarrhea. Some people with this condition may have bloody stools, vomit, develop a fever and have a swollen abdomen which may be very tender. There may also be a fever and a loss of appetite. Commonly, eating can cause many of these symptoms to occur, which may further lead to a disinterest in food.

A computerized tomography (CT) scan, an X-ray or a more invasive test such as an arteriogram may be performed to diagnose mesenteric ischemia. An anteriogram involves administering dye into the bloodstream to accurately identify an artery abnormality such as a blockage. To treat this potentially fatal condition, doctors may perform surgery to bypass a blockage or to remove a blood clot from the mesenteric artery. Some patients may have a stent placed in the artery to keep it open once the blockage is cleared. In addition, anticoagulants may be used to prevent further clots.


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