Ischemic bowel disease results from inadequate flow of oxygenated blood to the intestines. The extent of ischemic bowel disease can range from mild to severe based on the amount of damage from lack of oxygenated blood. This is a potentially serious condition and requires immediate medical care. The sooner ischemic bowel disease is treated, the more favorable the outcome.
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Ischemic bowel disease occurs when an artery that supplies blood becomes blocked or narrowed. There are several possible causes of ischemic bowel disease, including:
- Blockage in the arteries due to a tumor or blood clot
- Narrowing of the arteries supplying blood to the bowel from atherosclerosis
- Obstruction in the colon
- Low blood pressure
- Certain medications such as diuretics, chemotherapy drugs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Ischemic bowel disease is more common in older adults. Other factors that may increase your chances of developing ischemic bowel disease include:
- Shock induced by conditions such as blood stream infection and blood loss
- Recent heart attack
- Sustained heart arrhythmias
- Heart failure
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
- Coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) or other vascular surgeries
- Colon cancer
- Certain medications that cause arteries to narrow
- Sickle cell disease
Ischemic bowel disease may cause:
- Cramping and abdominal pain
- Bloody stools
- Frequent urge to defecate
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal distension
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may suspect ischemic bowel disease based on your symptoms and risk factors. Tests may be done to confirm or rule out a diagnosis.
Tests may include the following:
Treatment options depend on the severity of the ischemia and include the following:
Bowel rest and intravenous fluids are given in mild cases without significantly progressed damage to the bowel.
Antibiotics are administered to minimize infection, which can quickly complicate an ischemic bowel.
In more severe cases, surgery is required to remove the ischemic colon.
To help reduce your chances of ischemic bowel disease:
- Stay well hydrated.
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease through regular exercise and a balanced diet low in fat and calories.
- Consume plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and fiber, which may reduce your risk of colon cancer.
American College of Gastroenterology http://gi.org
American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy https://www.asge.org
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology https://www.cag-acg.org
HealthLink BC https://www.healthlinkbc.ca
Green BT, Tendler DA. Ischemic colitis: A clinical review. Southern Med J. 2005;98(2):217-222.
Greenwald DA, Brandt LJ, et al. Ischemic bowel disease in the elderly. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2001;30(2):445-473.
Ischemic colitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116157/Ischemic-colitis . Updated September 13, 2017. Accessed October 3, 2017.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD
- Review Date: 09/2018
- Update Date: 08/04/2020