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Diagnosis / Narrowed Blood Vessels to the Bowel

Mesenteric Artery Ischemia

Mesenteric artery ischemia (MAI) is a condition in which at least one of the three main blood vessels (the mesenteric arteries) responsible for providing blood to your bowels is obstructed (known as ischemia). This can be an acute condition, meaning that it came on rapidly, or a chronic condition, meaning that it developed over time. Whatever the case, while it is a very serious health concern, it can be successfully treated and in some cases, even reversed.

What is Mesenteric Artery Ischemia?

Your large and small intestines receive oxygen-rich blood and nutrients via three main arteries – the mesenteric arteries. When the blood flow to the intestines is restricted or blocked entirely, it can result in cell death, permanent intestinal damage, and may even be life-threatening. MAI is most common in those over the age of 60, but can happen at any age.

There are several causes of MAI, including:

  • Blood clots – For most people who are diagnosed with acute MAI, blood clots are the most common cause, especially for patients diagnosed with atrial fibrillation or other abnormal heart rhythms. If a blood clot develops and lodges in one of the mesenteric arteries, it interrupts the supply of blood. The tissues that are under the blocked vessel are then starved for the oxygenated blood necessary to thrive, and they begin to die.
  • Atherosclerosis – For those with chronic MAI, atherosclerosis is usually the cause. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fatty plaque deposits in the lining of your arteries, causing them to narrow, and reducing blood flow to the intestines. Eventually, if the narrowing becomes too severe, MAI can develop. If you have high cholesterol, diabetes, or are a smoker, your risk for atherosclerosis is increased.
  • Cardiovascular disease – If you have existing cardiovascular disease, your risk for MAI may be greater. The mesenteric arteries branch off of the heart’s main artery, the aorta. If you already have plaque buildup in your arteries, you are more likely to develop MAI.
  • Other causes – If you have undergone any sort of surgery on your blood vessels, there is a chance that scar tissue can cause your mesenteric arteries to narrow. Additionally, use of illegal drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine can cause narrowing of the blood vessels as well.

Symptoms of Mesenteric Artery Ischemia

There are a variety of symptoms that can point to mesenteric artery ischemia, including:

  • Tenderness or pain in the abdomen, often concentrated in one specific area
  • Bloating, or a feeling of fullness
  • Stomach pain after eating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Blood in your stools
  • Frequent or sudden urges to have a bowel movement
  • History of cardiovascular disease

Diagnosis of MAI can be done using a CT scan, MRI, or arteriogram, which uses x-ray technology and a special dye to allow your doctor to see any blockages in your arteries.

Treating Mesenteric Artery Ischemia

When treating MAI, the goal is to reopen the blocked artery to allow normal blood flow to your intestines, allowing them to work properly, and to do so before permanent damage is done. In cases of acute MAI, the treatment will need to quickly eliminate the blood clot, whether by dissolving it or surgically removing it. If you suffer from chronic MAI, you may undergo an angiogram or bypass surgery, depending on the severity of the blockages in your arteries.

If you recognize some of the signs and symptoms of mesenteric artery ischemia, or have been diagnosed with this condition and are seeking treatment, call IVC today at 503-612-0498 and schedule an appointment with one of our experienced team.

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Jason Bauer, MD RVT
Michael Pfister, MD RVT

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