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Learning About Mesenteric Artery Stenosis

Small and large intestine, with detail of mesenteric artery

What is it?

Mesenteric artery stenosis is the narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the intestines. These arteries are called the mesenteric arteries.

What causes it?

It's almost always caused by a buildup of fatty deposits called plaque. This is often called "hardening of the arteries," or atherosclerosis. The buildup can narrow the arteries and reduce or block blood flow to the intestines.

What are the symptoms?

Some people may not have symptoms. But if the narrowing gets worse, symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the belly after eating.
  • Feeling full after eating only a small amount.
  • Weight loss.
  • Nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.

If blood flow is very limited or suddenly blocked, such as by a blood clot, the intestines won't get enough blood. This can cause serious damage. It's an emergency. The main symptom is severe belly pain that has no clear cause and that doesn't go away.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam. Lab tests will be done, and the doctor will ask about your and your family's past health.

If your doctor thinks that you may have mesenteric artery stenosis, you may have a test that lets your doctor look at a picture of your arteries. Tests that can do this include:

A duplex Doppler ultrasound.

This test uses sound waves to show how blood flows through a blood vessel.

A computed tomography (CT) angiogram.

This test uses X-rays and a special dye to make very detailed pictures of the arteries.

A magnetic resonance angiogram.

It uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of the mesenteric arteries.

A catheter angiogram.

It uses X-rays to make pictures of the blood flow in a blood vessel, such as an artery.

How is it treated?

People who don't have symptoms usually don't need treatment. A heart-healthy lifestyle may help slow the disease. But if you start to have symptoms, tell your doctor. Symptoms can mean that the narrowing of your arteries has gotten worse. Angioplasty or surgery may be used to improve blood flow.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Caring for yourself means doing things that will help slow the condition or keep it from getting worse. For instance, take your medicines. Don't smoke. Eat heart-healthy foods, and be active. And manage other health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have sudden, severe belly pain that doesn't go away.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You start to have symptoms, such as:
    • Belly pain after you eat.
    • Weight loss.
    • Nausea and diarrhea.
    • Rectal bleeding.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.