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Ischemic colitis occurs when blood flow to the colon is reduced or blocked. Bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal pain are the most common symptoms. Other symptoms include vomiting, fever, and fainting. Diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration. This is the rapid loss of the fluids your body needs to function. Because of the severe pain and the risk for dehydration, ischemic colitis should be treated right away.
The cause of the reduction or blockage of blood flow to the colon is not well understood. In some cases, a sudden drop in blood pressure leads to an episode. Ischemic colitis is more likely in persons with blood clotting problems or heart and blood vessel disease.
The presence of severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea is often enough to diagnose ischemic colitis. After these symptoms are treated, a test called a colonoscopy will likely be done. This helps rule out other colon problems. The test uses a thin, flexible scope with a light and camera on the end. The scope is inserted through the rectum into the colon. The scope sends pictures from inside the colon to a video screen. A small sample of tissue (biopsy) from the colon may be taken for further testing in a lab.
Episodes are treated in the hospital. You may remain in the hospital for several days.
An IV line is put into a vein in your hand or arm. You will be given fluids through the IV to treat dehydration. You are also given IV pain medications if you need them.
You may be given IV antibiotics (medications that treat infection).
To rest the bowel, you will not eat or drink for a few days. You will be given nutrition through the IV.
If you lost a lot of blood during the episode, you may receive a blood transfusion.
In rare cases, an episode causes severe damage to the colon. In this case, surgery may need to be done to remove the damaged section. Your health care provider can tell you more if this is needed.
While you are being treated, your doctor will work to find the cause of your ischemic colitis. After you recover, you may need to make lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, or take medications to decrease your risk of another episode. Call 911 or emergency services or go to the emergency room right away if your symptoms return.