Do you know how long the intestine is? The combination of large and small intestine is at least 7 metres. That is a very long intestine, isn’t it? Since it is indeed very long, a lot of things can go wrong. While some health conditions may not be serious, some may actually result in death if it is not treated properly. Thus, getting regular health screening will help to identify diseases early on and help patients to get early medical intervention. In this article, we will be learning about ischemic colitis and know how serious the disease can be.
Ischemic colitis is the inflammation in the large intestine. Ischemic colitis is the most common type of ischemia affecting the gastrointestinal system. It accounts for 1 in every 2000 hospital admission. Ischemia is a condition where the blood flow to the organ is restricted. In case of ischemic colitis, it is a result of a lack of blood flow to the large intestine due to the blocked or narrowed artery.
Ischemic colitis is commonly seen in older patients around the age 60’s to 70’s. However, younger people may get it. Oftentimes doctors could not locate the cause of the reduced blood flow but it is common among people with heart or blood vessel diseases, people who have history of surgery to the big blood vessel known as aorta or people with increased blood clotting problems. Atherosclerosis in the arteries of intestine and bowel blockage due to scar tissue or hernia may even be the cause of ischemic colitis. In rare conditions, certain medications can be the cause of ischemic colitis.
Symptoms of ischemic colitis include abdominal pain usually on the left side but can occur anywhere in the abdomen, bloody bowel movement within 24 hours after crampy abdominal pain and low-grade fever. Nausea and diarrhoea may also occur. Since the symptoms can be similar to other diseases affecting the gut, the best thing to do for patients with the symptoms suspected of ischemic colitis is to get checked by doctors immediately.
Doctors will suspect a person with ischemic colitis if the symptoms of abdominal pain and bleeding are sudden, especially in older people. Cramping abdominal pain in the distribution of affected large intestine, followed by the short course of bloody diarrhoea is the classic way of suspecting an ischemic colitis. History of diseases affecting the heart, blood vessel or gut often support the likelihood of the patient to have ischemic colitis. Doctors typically will run imaging test such as colonoscopy or even CT-scan to get a closer look of the large intestine.
Treatment typically depends on the severity of the disease. In most cases, ischemic colitis can heal on its own. Thus, doctors often offer antibiotics and fluids by vein. Fluids by vein help to put the intestine at rest and provide time for it to heal. Often so, patients are advised not to eat or drink and to get nutrition plus hydration via fluid by vein. Within a few days, the patient is allowed to drink and eat as usual. In case of serious ischemic colitis, surgery is needed to remove the dead tissue or to repair the bowel. Medications such as vasodilators and antithrombotic drugs may be given to widen the arteries. Surgery is likely to be done in 20% of people with ischemic colitis especially those with underlying medical conditions. Surgery may be in the form of laparotomy, laparoscopy or angioplasty. Doctors will perform follow-up colonoscopy to evaluate the healing progress and complications.
Ischemic colitis is indeed a serious disease. This is because if it is left untreated, not only the intestine sustains damage but can put a person’s life in life-threatening events. This is especially true in those with medical conditions such as heart diseases as this will put patients at high risk for complications and recovery more difficult. This group is at risk for unfavourable outcomes and death with 40%.
Despite this disease being a serious one, most people with ischemic colitis actually experience it once in their lifetime and often so is mild one. Most recover fully with conservative treatment without the need for surgery in 1 or 2 weeks. Only a smaller percentage of people with complicated cases need surgery. In some people, it can be an ongoing problem with development of scar tissue in the affected area.
Although it is not possible to prevent ischemic colitis by 100% especially in those with preexisting medical conditions, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent the likelihood of developing one. Taking care of the medical conditions by getting proper treatment such as medication and lifestyle changes can help lower the risk for ischemic colitis or prevent another episode of the disease. Patients should always practise healthy eating habits, stay hydrated, avoiding strenuous exercise and to stop smoking or misuse of drugs.