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Bowel Infarction & Mesenteric Ischemia: Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

Bowel infarctions and mesenteric ischemia refer to a very serious, life-threatening condition that affects the abdominal region of the body. What causes this condition? How is it diagnosed and treated? Continue reading to find out!

Severe Abdominal Problems

Did you know that in the U.S.:

  • About 735,000 people have heart attacks each year
  • About 4% of people over the age of 45 suffer from a hernia
  • Over 36.5 million adults currently smoke cigarettes

What do these figures all have in common? They are all associated with an increased risk for bowel infarctions and mesenteric ischemia.

What is a Bowel Infarction & Mesenteric Ischemia?

Infarction and ischemia are two terms that both refer to a reduction in blood flow to an organ or other part of the body. Therefore, a bowel infarction and mesenteric ischemia are both conditions in which blood flow to the intestines is reduced. (Bowel refers to the intestines and mesentery is the tissue that attaches the intestines to the abdominal wall.)

Causes

There are multiple causes of bowel infarctions and mesenteric ischemia, which include:

  • Hernias: Hernias occur when the intestines bulge through the abdominal wall. When the intestines are herniated, they can become tangled or pinched, possibly restricting blood flow to the intestines and mesentery.
  • Previous abdominal surgery: Surgery to the abdominal region may cause scar tissue and adhesions to form. These scar tissues and adhesions may then cause a reduction in blood flow to the intestines and mesentery.
  • Blood clots: Clots in the blood can block an artery that supplies the intestines or mesentery with blood.
  • Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis refers to the fatty build-up that occurs in the blood vessels. This fatty build-up can occur in the arteries that supply the intestines and mesentery with blood, causing reduced blood flow.

It should be noted that smoking, being physically inactive, and eating an unhealthy diet are all contributing risk factors for bowel infarctions and mesenteric ischemia.

Atherosclerosis is the fatty build-up that occurs in the blood vessels that can restrict proper blood flow.
atherosclerosis

Diagnosis

When a person develops a bowel infarction or mesenteric ischemia, they will often suffer from diarrhea, vomiting, severe stomach pains, and blood in the stool. However, these signs can signify several different diseases or conditions. Therefore, in order to properly diagnose bowel infarctions or mesenteric ischemia, a doctor will need to perform one or more diagnostic tests. Examples of tests that are used to diagnose bowel infarctions and mesenteric ischemia include:

  • Angiogram: A special dye is injected into the blood vessels. The blood vessels are then examined under an x-ray to look for any blockages.
  • CT scan: A CT scan is a special type of x-ray that takes cross-sectional images of various body parts. A CT scan of the abdomen will often show any areas of infarction of ischemia.
  • Ultrasound: A machine that uses sound waves to examine inside the body. (Ultrasounds are often used to view a baby inside the womb.)

An angiogram involves injecting dye into the blood vessels and viewing the blood vessels under an x-ray.
angiogram

It should be noted that these diagnostic tests do not always diagnose a bowel infarction or mesenteric ischemia. Sometimes the only way to truly diagnose these conditions is to perform surgery to cut open the abdominal wall and examine the intestines directly.

Treatment

Treatment for bowel infarctions and mesenteric ischemia often requires surgery. If a section of the intestines has died due to a lack of blood flow, surgery will often involve the surgical removal of this section. Once the necrotic section has been removed, the two remaining ends are reattached.

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