Blood clots in the abdomen can cause intestinal ischemia – signs to look out for
Blood clots are small blood clots that become gel-like. A certain amount of clotting is important as it prevents excessive bleeding from cuts. However, clots that do not dissolve naturally are a concern.
This is because they can travel to vital organs, causing a medical emergency.
Well-known clot-related emergencies include strokes that occur when the blood supply to the brain is cut off, or pulmonary embolisms caused by a clot in the lungs.
A lesser known problem that can be caused by a blood clot is intestinal ischemia.
Intestinal ischemia is the name for a number of conditions that occur when blood flow to the intestines is reduced.
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The Mayo Clinic explains: “Ischemia can be caused by a completely or partially blocked blood vessel, usually an artery, or by low blood pressure, resulting in an overall decrease in blood flow. Intestinal ischemia can affect the small intestine, the large intestine (colon), or both.
“Reduced blood flow does not provide enough oxygen to the cells of the digestive system.
“Intestinal ischemia is a serious condition that can cause pain and make it difficult for the bowel to function properly.
“In severe cases, loss of blood flow to the intestines can damage intestinal tissues and possibly lead to death.”
The clinic lists one of the causes of intestinal ischemia as “blockage of an artery caused by a thrombus.”
Symptoms of a blood clot in the abdomen may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
If you experience “sudden” or “severe” abdominal pain, the clinic recommends that you seek immediate medical attention.
But if you’re experiencing other, less severe symptoms, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor.
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However, intestinal ischemia, like stroke, is not always caused by blood clots.
This can also result from:
- Narrowing of the artery due to the accumulation of fatty deposits such as cholesterol (atherosclerosis)
- Low blood pressure leading to an overall decrease in blood flow.
Other symptoms of intestinal ischemia include:
- Urgent need to have a bowel movement
- Frequent, heavy bowel movements
- blood in your stool
- Confusion in the elderly.
If the symptoms are not noticed in time, intestinal ischemia can lead to a number of serious complications.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:
- Death of intestinal tissue
- Hole in the intestinal wall
- Scarring or narrowing of the intestine.
A number of factors contribute to the formation of blood clots.
To reduce the risk of unwanted blood clots, the NHS recommends:
- stay active
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- To drink a lot of water
- To give up smoking.
However, you are also at an increased risk of blood clots if you are using hormonal contraception, are pregnant or have just given birth, or have an inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis.
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