Ischaemic Bowel Disease

Ischaemia means not enough blood.

Just like patients can have a heart attack because an artery becomes blocked – in the same way the bowel can die because of a blockage of one of the main arteries to the bowel.  This blockage can be due to thrombosis – that is a clot in the vessel or due to embolism which is when a clot becomes dislodged from one site and then passes in the arteries to block an artery elsewhere.

The pain of bowel ischaemia is usually acute and severe … and the patient is very sick.  It is not easy to detect and surgery is required urgently.

There are other types of impaired blood supply to the bowel where symptoms are more gradual like angina in the heart.  That is the patient develops pain in the bowel after meals instead of after walking.  The blood supply to the bowel needs to increase after meals because of the increasing activity.  There may not be enough blood flow because of the blockage of the arteries and the patient develops pain.  This is also a difficult diagnosis to make and special tests, scans and dyes are required to confirm the diagnosis.

With ischaemic bowel disease of a chronic nature, diarrhoea or bleeding may also occur.