Is Ischemic Colitis?
Ischemic colitis (IC) is an inflammatory condition of the large
intestine, or colon, that develops when there isn’t enough blood flow to the
colon. IC can occur at any age, but it’s most common among those over the age
A buildup of plaque inside the arteries, which is called atherosclerosis,
can cause chronic, or long-term, IC. This condition may also go away with mild
treatment, such as a short-term liquid diet and antibiotics.
Acute, or sudden and short-term, IC is usually caused by a blood
clot. Acute IC is a medical emergency and must be treated quickly. The mortality
rate is high if gangrene, or death of tissue, occurs in the colon.
IC is also known as mesenteric artery ischemia, mesenteric
vascular disease, or colonic ischemia.
Causes Ischemic Colitis?
IC occurs when there’s a lack of blood flow to your colon. The
hardening of one or more of the mesenteric arteries may cause a sudden
reduction in blood flow, which is also called an infarction. These are the
arteries that supply blood to your intestines. The arteries can harden when
there’s a buildup of fatty deposits called plaque inside your artery walls. This
condition is known as atherosclerosis. It’s a common cause of IC among people who
have a history of coronary artery
disease or peripheral
A blood clot can also block the mesenteric arteries and stop or
reduce blood flow. Clots are more common in people with an irregular heartbeat,
Are the Risk Factors for Ischemic Colitis?
IC most often occurs in people who are over 60 years old. This
may be because arteries tend to harden as you get older. As you age, your heart
and blood vessels need to work harder to pump and receive blood. This causes your
arteries to weaken, making them more prone to plaque buildup.
You also have a higher risk of developing IC if you:
- have congestive heart failure
- have diabetes
- have low blood pressure
- have a history of surgical procedures to the
- take medications that can cause constipation
Are the Symptoms of Ischemic Colitis?
Most people with IC feel mild to moderate abdominal pain. This
pain often occurs suddenly and feels like a stomach cramp. Some blood may also be
present in the stool, but the bleeding shouldn’t be severe. Excessive blood in
the stool may be a sign of a different problem, such as Crohn’s disease,
which is an inflammatory bowel disease, or colon cancer.
Other symptoms include:
- pain in your abdomen after eating
- an urgent need to have a bowel movement
- tenderness in the abdomen
Is Ischemic Colitis Diagnosed?
IC can be hard to diagnose. It can easily be mistaken for inflammatory
bowel disease, a group of diseases that includes Crohn’s disease and
Your doctor will ask you about your medical history and order several
diagnostic tests. These tests can include the following:
- An ultrasound or CT scan can create images of
your blood vessels and intestines.
- A mesenteric angiogram is an imaging test that
uses X-rays to see inside your arteries and determine where the blockage has
- A blood test can be used to check for a white
blood cell count. If your white blood cell count is high, it may indicate acute
Is Ischemic Colitis Treated?
Mild cases of IC are often treated with:
- a liquid diet
- intravenous (IV) fluids
- pain medication
Acute IC is a medical emergency. It may require:
- thrombolytics, which are medicines that dissolve
- vasodilators, which are medicines that can widen
your mesenteric arteries
- surgery to remove the blockage in your arteries
People with chronic IC usually only need surgery if other
Are the Potential Complications of Ischemic Colitis?
The most dangerous complication of IC is gangrene, or tissue
death. When blood flow to your colon is limited, the tissue can wither and die.
Surgery may be needed to remove the dead tissue if this occurs.
Other complications associated with IC include:
- a perforation, or hole, in your intestine
- peritonitis, which is
an inflammation of the tissue lining your abdomen
which is a very serious and widespread bacterial infection
Is the Outlook for People with IC?
Most people with chronic IC can be successfully treated with
medication and surgery. However, the problem may come back if you don’t
maintain a healthy lifestyle. Your arteries will continue to harden if certain
lifestyle changes aren’t made. These changes may include exercising more
frequently or quitting smoking.
The outlook for people with acute IC is often poor because tissue
death in the intestine frequently occurs before surgery. The outlook is much
better if the condition is diagnosed and treated right away.
Can I Prevent Ischemic Colitis?
A healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing hardened
arteries. The basics of a healthy lifestyle include:
- exercising regularly
- eating a healthy diet
- treating heart conditions that can lead to blood
clots, such as an irregular heartbeat
- monitoring your blood cholesterol and blood
- not smoking
Your doctor may also recommend that you stop taking any
medication that can cause ischemic colitis. These drugs can include certain
antibiotics or heart and migraine medications. Make sure you tell your doctor what
medications you’re currently taking.