Ischemia, the noun for ischemic, means a low oxygen state due to inadequate blood flow. Bowel refers to the small and large intestine.

Ischemic bowel disease results from inadequate flow of oxygenated blood to the intestines. The extent of ischemic bowel disease can range from mild to severe based on the amount of damage from lack of oxygenated blood. This is a potentially serious condition and requires care from your doctor. The sooner ischemic bowel disease is treated, the more favorable the outcome. Contact your doctor if you think you may have ischemic bowel disease.

The Intestines

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Ischemic bowel disease occurs when an artery that supplies blood becomes blocked or narrowed. There are several possible causes of ischemic bowel disease, including:

  • Blockage in the arteries due to a tumor or blood clot
  • Narrowing of the arteries supplying blood to the bowel from atherosclerosis
  • Obstruction in the colon (large intestine)
  • Risk Factors

    A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. The following factors increase your chances of developing ischemic bowel disease:

  • Advanced age
  • Shock induced by conditions such as blood stream infection and blood loss
  • Recent heart attack
  • Sustained abnormal heart beat
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery or other vascular surgeries
  • Colon cancer
  • Certain medications that cause arteries to narrow
  • Diabetes
  • Hemodialysis
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Dehydration
  • Pregnancy
  • Symptoms

    If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to ischemic bowel disease. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you have the following symptoms, see your physician.

  • Cramping and abdominal pain
  • Bloody stools
  • Frequent urge to defecate
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal distension
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. If ischemic bowel disease is suspected, you will most likely be referred to a specialist for further evaluation and treatment.

    Tests may include the following:

  • X-ray of abdomen
  • CT Scan or MRI of the abdomen
  • Colonoscopy —a procedure where a long flexible tube is inserted through the rectum to inspect the colon and rectum.
  • Angiography —an x-ray test used to view the arteries supplying the bowel
  • Treatment

    Treatment options depend on the severity of the ischemia and include the following:

    Supportive Care

    Bowel rest and intravenous fluids are given in mild cases without significant progressed damage to the bowel.


    Antibiotics are administered to minimize infection, which can quickly complicate an ischemic bowel.


    In more severe cases, surgery is required to remove the ischemic colon.


    To help reduce your chances of developing ischemic bowel disease, take the following steps:

  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease through regular exercise and a balanced diet low in fat and calories.
  • Consume plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and fiber, which may reduce your risk of colon cancer.