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Alternative Names Return to topIntestinal necrosis; Ischemic bowel; Dead bowel; Dead gut
Definition Return to top
Intestinal ischemia and infarction is the death of part of the intestine due to its blood supply being cut off.
Causes Return to top
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 Return to top
The hallmark of intestinal ischemia is abdominal pain. Other symptoms include:
Exams and Tests Return to top
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 Return to top
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.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
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.
Possible Complications Return to top
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.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if you have any severe abdominal pain.
Prevention Return to top
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 Return to top
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.Update Date: 5/15/2008 Updated 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.