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Digestive system
Digestive system


Blood supply of the large intestine
Blood supply of the large intestine


Definition:

Intestinal ischemia and infarction is the death of part of the intestine due to its blood supply being cut off.



Alternative Names:

Intestinal necrosis; Ischemic bowel; Dead bowel; Dead gut



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

There are several possible causes of intestinal ischemia and infarction.

Hernia: If the intestine moves into the wrong place or becomes tangled, this can lead to intestinal ischemia.

Adhesions : The intestine may also become trapped in scar tissue from previous surgery (adhesions), which can lead to ischemia if left untreated.

Embolus: A blood clot from the heart or main blood vessels may travel through the bloodstream and block one of the arteries supplying the intestine. Patients with previous heart attacks or with arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, are at risk for this problem.

Arterial thrombosis: The arteries that supply blood to the intestine may become so narrowed from atherosclerotic disease (cholesterol buildup) that they become blocked. When this happens in the arteries to the heart, it causes a heart attack. When it happens in the arteries to the intestine, it causes intestinal ischemia.

Venous thrombosis: The veins carrying blood away from the intestines may become blocked by blood clots. This is more common in people with liver disease, cancer, or blood clotting disorders.

Low blood pressure: Very low blood pressure in patients with preexisting narrowing of the arteries may also cause intestinal ischemia. This typically occurs in patients who are very ill for other reasons and may be compared to losing water pressure in a hose with a partial blockage.



Symptoms:

The hallmark of intestinal ischemia is abdominal pain. Other symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting


Signs and tests:

Laboratory tests may show a high white blood cell (WBC) count (a marker of infection) and increased acid in the bloodstream.

Other tests include:

None of these tests are foolproof, however. Sometimes the only sure way to diagnose ischemic bowel is with exploratory surgery.



Treatment:

Treatment usually requires surgery. The section of intestine that has died is removed, and the healthy remaining ends of bowel reconnected.

In some cases, a colostomy or ileostomy is necessary. A blockage of arteries supplying the intestine is corrected if possible.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

Intestinal ischemia is a serious condition that can result in death if not treated promptly. The outlook depends on the cause. A good outcome may be achieved with prompt treatment.



Complications:

Intestinal infarction may require a colostomy or ileostomy, either temporary or permanent. Peritonitis is common in such cases.

Severe illness with fever and bloodstream infection (sepsis ) can result.



Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if you have any severe abdominal pain.



Prevention:

Eating a nutritious diet and avoiding smoking can help prevent this disease. Prompt treatment of hernias and control of risk factors, such as heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure, and cholesterol, may also help.



References:

Fry RD, Mahmoud N, Maron DJ, Ross HM, Rombeau J. Colon and rectum. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers MB, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 50.




Review Date: 5/15/2008
Reviewed By: Robert A. Cowles, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100