What Is Mesenteric Artery Ischemia?
Mesenteric artery ischemia is a
condition that restricts blood flow to your intestines. There are three main
arteries that supply blood to your small and large intestines. These are known
as the mesenteric arteries. Narrowing or blocking the arteries reduces the
amount of blood that travels to your digestive tract.
When your intestines don’t receive
enough oxygen-rich blood, it can lead to serious health problems, including
cell death and permanent damage. It can even be life-threatening.
What Are the Causes of Mesenteric Artery
People of any age can develop
mesenteric artery ischemia (MAI), but it’s most common in adults over 60 years
MAI may occur with cardiovascular
disease. The mesenteric arteries that deliver blood to your intestines branch
off from the aorta, the heart’s main artery. The buildup of fatty deposits,
called atherosclerosis, can lead to heart disease. This kind of heart disease
usually occurs in combination with changes in the aorta and the vessels that
branch off of the aorta.
High cholesterol contributes to
the ischemia because it causes plaque to line your arteries. This plaque
buildup causes narrowing of the vessels and reduces the blood flow to your
intestines. You’re more likely to develop atherosclerosis if you smoke, have
diabetes, have high blood pressure, or have high cholesterol.
Blood clots can block the
mesenteric arteries and reduce blood flow to the digestive tract. A blood clot
is a group of blood cells that stick together. Blood clots can also increase
your risk of stroke if they travel to the brain. Birth control pills and other
medications containing estrogen can increase your risk of developing blood
Cocaine and methamphetamine
use can also lead to ischemia in some people. These drugs cause your blood
vessels to narrow.
Blood vessel surgery is another
possible cause of ischemia. Surgery can create scar tissue that narrows the
What Are the Symptoms of Mesenteric Artery
Mesenteric artery ischemia has two
types: acute and chronic. The acute form of the disease appears suddenly. Acute
ischemia has severe symptoms. The chronic type of MAI has a more gradual onset.
For most people, blood clots cause acute ischemia. Atherosclerosis is usually
the cause of chronic ischemia.
- abdominal pain and tenderness
- bloating or a sense of fullness
You may also have a sudden urge to
have frequent bowel movements during an acute case of MAI. Blood in the stool
is a common symptom.
Stomach pain after eating is also a
symptom of chronic ischemia. You may develop a fear of eating due to the
expectation of pain. This can cause unintended weight loss.
How Is Mesenteric Artery Ischemia Diagnosed?
Your doctor will take your medical
history and perform a physical exam to diagnose MAI. Imaging tools can confirm
a narrowing of one or more mesenteric arteries. These include:
- CT scans: X-rays that produce cross-sectional
images of body structures and organs
- ultrasound: a sonogram that uses high-frequency sound
waves to create images of body organs
- MRI: magnet and radio waves that look at body
- MRA: magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) is an
MRI exam of the blood vessels
- arteriogram: a procedure that uses X-rays and a
special dye to look at the inside of blood vessels
What Is the Treatment for Mesenteric Artery
Acute blockages in the intestines must
receive treatment immediately to prevent tissue death. Usually, in the case of
an acute ischemia attack, surgery removes blot clots, scar tissue, and parts of
the intestines that have already died. Your doctor may prescribe blood-thinning
medications to prevent future blood clots.
Angioplasty is another treatment
option for narrowed arteries. A mesh tube called a stent is inserted into the
narrowed artery to hold it open. In cases of total blockage, sometimes the
blocked artery is bypassed altogether.
Surgery can treat chronic mesenteric
artery ischemia, if needed. Surgery isn’t always necessary if intestinal
ischemia progresses slowly. Lifestyle adjustments may help reverse atherosclerosis
naturally. Lifestyle changes can include following a low-fat and low-sodium
diet to reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Daily exercise can
also lower cholesterol, regulate blood pressure, and increase heart health.
These medications also play
a role in treating mesenteric artery ischemia:
- antibiotics (if an infection caused a blockage
in the intestinal arteries)
thinners to prevent future blood clots, such as heparin or warfarin
- vasodilator drugs to widen your blood vessels,
such as hydralazine
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
Most people with chronic mesenteric
artery ischemia recover well with treatment and lifestyle changes. Acute
intestinal ischemia has a higher chance of morbidity, as treatment can occur
too late after intestinal tissue is already dead. Prompt treatment is
imperative for a healthy outlook.