Ischemic colitis occurs when a part of the colon experiences a decrease in blood flow. It can cause serious complications but usually resolves on its own.
Ischemic colitis occurs when blood flow to part of the large intestine is temporarily reduced. This segment of the large intestine is called the colon. This reduced blood flow may be caused by narrowing of the blood vessels supplying the colon. It also may be due to reduced blood flow caused by low blood pressure. The diminished blood flow doesn't provide enough oxygen for the cells in the digestive system. This can result in tissue damage to the affected area of the intestine.
Any part of the colon can be affected, but ischemic colitis most commonly causes pain on the left side of the belly area.
Ischemic colitis can be misdiagnosed because it can easily be confused with other digestive problems. You may need medicine to treat ischemic colitis or prevent infection. Or you may need surgery if your colon has been damaged. Most often, however, ischemic colitis heals on its own.
Symptoms of ischemic colitis can include:
The risk of severe complications is higher when you have symptoms on the right side of your belly. This is less commonly seen compared with left-sided colitis. People with right-sided colitis tend to have more underlying medical problems, such as high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and kidney disease. They more frequently have to undergo surgery and also have a higher risk of death.
Seek immediate medical care if you have sudden, severe pain in your belly area. Pain that makes you so uncomfortable that you can't sit still or find a comfortable position is a medical emergency.
Contact your health care provider if you develop worrisome symptoms, such as bloody diarrhea. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications.
The precise cause of diminished blood flow to the colon isn't always clear. But several factors can increase your risk of ischemic colitis:
The use of certain medicines also can lead to ischemic colitis, though this is rare. These include:
Risk factors for ischemic colitis include:
Ischemic colitis usually gets better on its own within 2 to 3 days. In more-severe cases, complications can include:
Since the cause of ischemic colitis isn't always clear, there's no certain way to prevent the disorder. Most people who have ischemic colitis recover quickly and may never have another episode.
To prevent recurrent episodes of ischemic colitis, some doctors recommend stopping any medicine that might cause the condition. Making sure to stay adequately hydrated, especially when doing vigorous outdoor activities, is also important — especially for those living in warm climates. A test for clotting problems may be recommended as well, especially if no other cause for ischemic colitis is apparent.
Ischemic colitis can often be confused with other disorders because their symptoms overlap, especially inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Based on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend these imaging tests:
Treatment for ischemic colitis depends on the severity of your condition.
Symptoms often diminish in 2 to 3 days in mild cases. Your health care provider may recommend:
Your provider also may schedule follow-up colonoscopies to monitor healing and look for complications.
If your symptoms are severe, or your colon has been damaged, you may need surgery to:
The likelihood of surgery may be higher if you have an underlying condition, such as heart disease, atrial fibrillation or kidney failure.
Go to the emergency room if you have severe stomach pain that makes you so uncomfortable that you can't sit still. You may be referred for immediate surgery to diagnose and treat your condition.
If your symptoms are mild and infrequent, call your health care provider for an appointment. After an initial evaluation, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in digestive disorders, called a gastroenterologist, or a surgeon who specializes in blood vessel disorders, called a vascular surgeon.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your provider.
Your provider is likely to ask you questions about your symptoms, such as: