Ischemia is a restriction of blood flow. This can occur for various reasons to any part of the body. When it occurs in the large intestine (also called the colon), it leads to a condition known as ischemic colitis. In most cases, ischemic colitis is mild and resolves on its own. In more serious cases, it can require medical intervention such as hydration therapy (usually IV fluid intake) or antibiotics. In the most severe cases, it can lead to gangrene, which is the death of a substantial amount of tissue. Gangrene is a very serious and life-threatening condition. Gangrene of the colon due to ischemic colitis usually requires surgical intervention to remove the dead tissue. It may also lead to sepsis, which is a potentially life-threatening whole body inflammatory response (often called “blood poisoning” in laymen’s terms).
Ischemic colitis is an uncommon condition but occurs much more frequently in people over the age of fifty. Additional risk factors include but are not limited to peripheral vascular disease, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, blockage of the large intestine, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), low blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, and frequent use of medications which cause constipation as one of their side effects. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and blood in the stool. Although ischemic colitis may occur in any part of the colon, one of the most common symptoms is pain on the left side of the abdomen.
In mild cases, treatment can include a liquid diet to give the bowel a rest, hydration therapy (either orally or by intravenous solution), and antibiotics. It usually resolves in a day or two and does not typically require hospitalization. For more serious cases, more aggressive intervention may be warranted, such as IV antibiotics, hospitalization, and surgery. In rare cases, it can lead to death.
If you develop the symptoms of ischemic colitis, please see your healthcare provider, especially if abdominal pain and fever persist in spite of appropriate care. If you are over the age of fifty, especially if you also have any other risk factors for the condition, go in sooner rather than later and be sure to mention all relevant risk factors to your attending physician.
As with any medical condition, early intervention and appropriate care are the best means to avoid the more serious and deadly complications which can result from ischemic colitis.