The diagnosis of acute mesenteric ischemia: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Acad Emerg Med. 2013 Nov;20(11):1087-100. doi: 10.1111/acem.12254.


Objectives: Acute mesenteric ischemia is an infrequent cause of abdominal pain in emergency department (ED) patients; however, mortality for this condition is high. Rapid diagnosis and surgery are key to survival, but presenting signs are often vague or variable, and there is no pathognomonic laboratory screening test. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the available literature was performed to determine diagnostic test characteristics of patient symptoms, objective signs, laboratory studies, and diagnostic modalities to help rule in or out the diagnosis of acute mesenteric ischemia in the ED.

Methods: In concordance with published guidelines for systematic reviews, the medical literature was searched for relevant articles. The Quality Assessment Tool for Diagnostic Accuracy Studies-2 (QUADAS-2) for systematic reviews was used to evaluate the overall quality of the trials included. Summary estimates of diagnostic accuracy were computed by using a random-effects model to combine studies. Those studies without data to fully complete a two-by-two table were not included in the meta-analysis portion of the project.

Results: The literature search identified 1,149 potentially relevant studies, of which 23 were included in the final analysis. The quality of the diagnostic studies was highly variable. A total of 1,970 patients were included in the combined population of all included studies. The prevalence of acute mesenteric ischemia ranged from 8% to 60%. There was a pooled sensitivity for l-lactate of 86% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 73% to 94%) and a pooled specificity of 44% (95% CI = 32% to 55%). There was a pooled sensitivity for D-dimer of 96% (95% CI = 89% to 99%) and a pooled specificity of 40% (95% CI = 33% to 47%). For computed tomography (CT), we found a pooled sensitivity of 94% (95% CI = 90% to 97%) and specificity of 95% (95% CI = 93% to 97%). The positive likelihood ratio (+LR) for a positive CT was 17.5 (95% CI = 5.99 to 51.29), and the negative likelihood ratio (-LR) was 0.09 (95% CI = 0.05 to 0.17). The pooled operative mortality rate for mesenteric ischemia was 47% (95% CI = 40% to 54%). Given these findings, the test threshold of 2.1% (below this pretest probability, do not test further) and a treatment threshold of 74% (above this pretest probability, proceed to surgical management) were calculated.

Conclusions: The quality of the overall literature base for mesenteric ischemia is varied. Signs, symptoms, and laboratory testing are insufficiently diagnostic for the condition. Only CT angiography had adequate accuracy to establish the diagnosis of acute mesenteric ischemia in lieu of laparotomy.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Fibrin Fibrinogen Degradation Products / analysis
  • Humans
  • Ischemia / diagnosis*
  • Lactates / analysis
  • Mesenteric Ischemia
  • Physical Examination
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Vascular Diseases / diagnosis*


  • Biomarkers
  • Fibrin Fibrinogen Degradation Products
  • Lactates
  • fibrin fragment D