Intestinal infarction is an occlusion of the arteries and veins that supply blood to this part of the body and can have serious consequences
When the blood supply to the intestine is interrupted, an intestinal infarction may occur, a rare and little known event, which often requires surgery to be resolved. Find out what intestinal infarction is, what the symptoms are and how it can be treated.
Intestinal infarction: what is it?
The intestine, because of its multiple functions, is crossed by numerous blood vessels that have the task of transporting both oxygen-rich blood and carbon dioxide and waste substances.
When the blood supply to these blood vessels is blocked, partially or completely, an intestinal infarction occurs. The tissues that make up the intestine, no longer sprayed, are damaged and can undergo necrosis. The most frequently affected are the arteries that carry blood to the intestine; instead, the obstructions of the veins that take away blood from the intestine are more rare.
Types of intestinal infarction
There are different types of intestinal infarction, depending on the area affected by the event.
The most frequent intestinal infarction is the one known as colon infarction (or ischemic colitis). Although it is a rather rare event, colon infarction most frequently affects people over 65 years of age. The symptoms of colon infarction are represented by: abdominal pain localized in the left side of the abdomen and presence of blood in the faeces
Acute mesenteric ischemia
Acute mesenteric ischemia affects the small intestine and can be caused by the formation of clots that obstruct the mesenteric artery or vein, or by a drop in blood pressure. Acute mesenteric ischemia causes severe abdominal pain, attacks of diarrhea, nausea and vomiting that may be associated with fever. The abdomen is swollen to the touch.
Chronic mesenteric ischemia
This type of intestinal infarction is a consequence of arteriosclerosis. It can degenerate into an acute mesenteric ischemia if the veins, already partially obstructed by the fat deposits on their walls, become completely obstructed. The symptoms of chronic mesenteric ischemia are milder than in acute forms. Abdominal pain, at first mild, tends to worsen over time and is associated with diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Also in this case the abdomen is swollen.
Mesenteric venous thrombosis
It is one of the less common forms of intestinal infarction, and occurs when the mesenteric vein becomes blocked.
What are the causes?
The causes of intestinal infarction can lead to total or partial occlusion of blood vessels and may be due to:
- atrial fibrillation;
- thrombi that form at the level of arteriosclerotic plaques;
- heart attack;
- intestinal obstructions;
- arterial hypotension associated with heart failure.
These causes are common to almost all types of intestinal infarction. To prevent or promptly diagnose intestinal ischemia, it is advisable to know the main risk factors that determine its onset. The main ones are:
- heart disease such as coronary heart disease or valvular disease;
- kidney failure;
- coagulation problems.
How to treat an intestinal infarction
When an intestinal infarction occurs, the surgical one is almost always the only viable route, because it is necessary to restore the correct blood supply to the intestine. Intervening promptly is of fundamental importance, both to prevent the damage caused by ischemia from becoming too severe and extended, and to avoid serious complications that can lead the patient to death.
If it occurs after 6-8 hours from the onset of symptoms, it may be necessary to remove large portions of the intestine, if they have gone into necrosis; in these cases, recovery is more complicated for the patient.
How to prevent intestinal infarction
A healthy diet and a balanced lifestyle are important to prevent the onset of intestinal infarction. It is important, therefore:
- eat lots of fruits and vegetables, avoiding fatty and high-sugar foods;
- keep the weight under control;
- not smoking.