Acute and Chronic Mesenteric Ischemia | Tampa General Hospital

Mesenteric Ischemia

Mesenteric ischemia restricts blood flow to the small intestine and in some cases can be life-threatening.  

Mesenteric ischemia (also known as intestinal ischemic syndrome) develops when a narrowed or blocked blood vessel restricts blood flow to the small intestine. This condition can occur suddenly (acute mesenteric ischemia) or develop gradually over time (chronic mesenteric ischemia).

Causes of Mesenteric Ischemia

Mesenteric ischemia is often caused by the buildup of plaque on the walls of arteries leading to the small intestine (atherosclerosis). Other potential causes include aneurysms and blood clots. Some of the risk factors that can increase someone’s chances of developing mesenteric ischemia include:

  • Being over age 60
  • Smoking
  • Having diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) or high fat (lipid) levels within the blood

Symptoms of Mesenteric Ischemia

Symptoms will vary depending on the type of mesenteric ischemia present. Acute mesenteric ischemia can cause:

  • Sudden, severe abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • An urgent need to defecate
  • Bloody stool

Since acute mesenteric ischemia can be a life-threatening condition, you should seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing these symptoms.

Someone with chronic mesenteric ischemia may experience:

  • Abdominal pain, especially after eating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Unexplained weight loss

Diagnosing Mesenteric Ischemia

Because other conditions (such as a bowel obstruction) can cause symptoms similar to those of mesenteric ischemia, a physician may order certain tests to rule out other potential causes, including:

  • An abdominal computed tomography (CT) scan
  • A chest X-ray
  • A gastrointestinal X-ray

If the physician still suspects mesenteric ischemia, he or she will likely order an angiogram to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for Mesenteric Ischemia

If you’re experiencing acute mesenteric ischemia, you may require emergency surgery to remove the blockage and restore blood flow to your intestine. Acute mesenteric ischemia can lead to sepsis and permanent intestinal damage and is a life-threatening condition.

It’s important to also promptly seek treatment for chronic mesenteric ischemia, since failing to treat this condition can lead to serious issues such as malnutrition and severe weight loss. Chronic mesenteric ischemia can also progress into acute mesenteric ischemia.

The specialists at Tampa General Hospital use a number of different methods to treat chronic mesenteric ischemia, including:

  • Prescribing medication such as anticoagulant or clot-busting medication
  • Recommending lifestyle changes such as reducing fat intake, eating smaller meals on a more frequent basis, regularly exercising and properly managing any underlying conditions
  • Performing surgery