Mesenteric ischemia: the importance of differential diagnosis for the surgeon

BMC Surg. 2013;13 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S51. doi: 10.1186/1471-2482-13-S2-S51. Epub 2013 Oct 8.


Background: Intestinal ischemia is an abdominal emergency that accounts for approximately 2% of gastrointestinal illnesses. It represents a complex of diseases caused by impaired blood perfusion to the small and/or large bowel including acute arterial mesenteric ischemia (AAMI), acute venous mesenteric ischemia (AVMI), non occlusive mesenteric ischemia (NOMI), ischemia/reperfusion injury (I/R), ischemic colitis (IC). In this study different study methods (US, CT) will be correlated in the detection of mesenteric ischemia imaging findings due to various etiologies.

Methods: Basing on our institutions experience, 163 cases of mesenteric ischemia/infarction from various cases, investigated with CT and undergone surgical treatment were retrospectively evaluated, in particular trought the following findings: presence/absence of arterial/venous obstruction, bowel wall thickness and enhancement, presence/absence of spastic reflex ileus, hypotonic reflex ileus or paralitic ileus, mural and/or portal/mesenteric pneumatosis, abdominal free fluid, parenchymal ischemia/infarction (liver, kidney, spleen).

Results: To make an early diagnosis useful to ensure a correct therapeutic approach, it is very important to differentiate between occlusive (arterial, venous) and non occlusive causes (NOMI). The typical findings of each forms of mesenteric ischemia are explained in the text.

Conclusion: The radiological findings of mesenteric ischemia have different course in case of different etiology. In venous etiology the progression of damage results faster than arterial even if the symptomatology is less acute; bowel wall thickening is an early finding and easy to detect, simplifying the diagnosis. In arterial etiology the damage progression is slower than in venous ischemia, bowel wall thinning is typical but difficult to recognize so diagnosis may be hard. In the NOMI before/without reperfusion the ischemic damage is similar to AAMI with additional involvement of large bowel parenchymatous organs. In reperfusion after NOMI and after AAMI the CT and surgical findings are similar to those of AVMI, and the injured bowel results quite easy to identify. The prompt recognition of each condition is essential to ensure a successful treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Ischemia / diagnosis*
  • Ischemia / etiology
  • Ischemia / surgery
  • Mesenteric Ischemia
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vascular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Vascular Diseases / etiology
  • Vascular Diseases / surgery