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Ischemic Bowel Disease


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 immediate medical care. The sooner ischemic bowel disease is treated, the more favorable the outcome.

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

Risk Factors

Ischemic bowel disease is more common in older adults. Other factors that may increase your chances of developing ischemic bowel disease include:


Ischemic bowel disease may cause:

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


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may suspect ischemic bowel disease based on your symptoms and risk factors. Tests may be done to confirm or rule out a diagnosis.

Tests may include the following:


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:

  • 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.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
  • Review Date: 08/2015 -
  • Update Date: 09/30/2013 -
  • American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy


  • National Library of Medicine


  • BC Health Guide


  • Canadian Association of Gastroenterology


  • Green BT, Tendler DA. Ischemic colitis: A clinical review. Southern Med J. 2005;98(2):217-222.

  • Greenwald DA, Brandt LJ, Reinus JF. Ischemic bowel disease in the elderly. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2001;30(2):445-465.

  • Ischemic colitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 25, 2013. Accessed August 13, 2014.