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Ischemic Bowel Disease

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Ischemic Bowel Disease

(Ischemic Colitis)


Ischemic bowel disease is a lack of blood flow to the bowel (intestine). It needs care right away.

The Intestines.

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This problem happens when an artery that supplies blood becomes blocked or narrowed. Ischemic bowel disease may be caused by:

  • Blockage in the arteries due to a tumor or blood clot
  • Narrowing of an artery from atherosclerosis
  • Obstruction in the colon
  • Low blood pressure
  • Some medicines, such as diuretics, chemotherapy drugs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Risk Factors

Ischemic bowel disease is more common in older adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:


Problems can range from mild to severe. It depends on how much damage has been done. A person with ischemic bowel disease may have:

  • Cramping and belly pain
  • Belly swelling
  • Need to pass stool often
  • Loose stools
  • Bloody stools
  • Nausea and vomiting


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Blood and stool tests may be taken.

Images of the belly may be taken. This can be done with:

A colonoscopy may be done. A long, flexible tube will be inserted through the rectum to check the intestines.


The goal of treatment is to restore blood flow to the bowel. Care is needed right away for ischemic bowel disease. The doctor may advise:

  • Supportive care, such as IV fluids to rest the bowel
  • Antibiotics to lower the risk of infection

People who are not helped by these methods may need surgery. It can remove the diseased part of the bowel.


Ischemic bowel disease cannot be prevented.





  • Ahmed, M. Ischemic bowel disease in 2021. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 2021; 27 (29): 4746-4762.
  • Brandt, L.J., Feuerstadt, P., et al. American College of Gastroenterology. ACG clinical guideline: epidemiology, risk factors, patterns of presentation, diagnosis, and management of colon ischemia (CI). Am J Gastroenterol, 2015; 110(1): 18-44; quiz 45.
  • Colon ischemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/colon-ischemia.


  • James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.