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Acute Mesenteric Ischemia

Scott Q. Nguyen, M.D. Celia M. Divino, M.D. Mount Sinai School of Medicine Department of Surgery

Mrs. Mitty
An 83 year-old woman is brought to the ER by ambulance from her nursing home w/ a 4 hour history of severe diffuse abdominal pain and distention.

What other points of the history do you want to know?

History, Mrs. Mitty

Consider the Following

Characterization of symptoms Temporal sequence Alleviating / Exacerbating factors:

Pertinent PMH, ROS, MEDS. Associated signs and symptoms Relevant family hx.

History, Mrs. Mitty

Characterization of Symptoms:
Sudden onset diffuse abdominal pain and distention 4 hours ago. Pain not localized to any quadrant.

Alleviating / Exacerbating factors:

Pain is excruciating, its the worse shes ever experienced Nothing alleviates it

Associated signs/symptoms:
She vomits 1L of feculent emesis on arrival to ER. Last BM 2 hours ago, loose

Other History
PMH Atrial Fibrillation - dxd 1 month ago, anticoagulation contraindicated with history of massive GI bleed CHF, CAD, DM PSH Cholecystectomy, left hemicolectomy for diverticular disease MEDS digoxin, metoprolol, insulin

Other History

Social History
Occasional wine, 50 pack-yr smoker, quit 2 yrs ago

Family History
Patient unable to give

What is your Differential Diagnosis?

Differential Diagnosis
Based on History and Presentation

Small Bowel Obstruction Acute Mesenteric Ischemia Perforated Diverticulitis Ischemic Colitis

Perforated Peptic Ulcer Disease Acute Pancreatitis Acute Cholecystitis Gastroenteritis Acute Appendicitis

Physical Examination What would you look for?

Physical Examination
Vital Signs: T = 38.5, P = 103, BP = 140/85, RR = 28 Appearance: thin , in severe distress, legs pulled up to chest,

Heart: irregularly irregular Lungs: mild rales at bases Abdomen: decreased BS, very distended, mildly tender
diffusely, no guarding/rebound tenderness, no hernias

Rectal: loose stool in vault, streaked w/ fresh blood

Remaining Examination findings non-contributory

Would you like to revise your Differential Diagnosis?

What would you obtain?

Labs ordered, Mrs. Mitty

14 405 42
85 PMNs 22 Bands





LFTs - WNL Amylase/Lipase - 89/95 PT/PTT - 13.0/33.0 ABG - 7.31/30/69/16 Lactate 7.9

Lab Results, Discussion

Leukocytosis - acute process, possibly infectious

Electrolytes - elevated BUN indicating dehydration or 3rd spacing.

Anion gap acidosis - intravascular depletion, Metabolic acidosis (lactic acidosis) Coags abnormal coags may reflect sepsis. Pt. not on anticoagulation for Afib. Normal LFTs/ pancreatic enzymes - no signs of hepatic/pancreatic insult

Interventions at this point?

Consider the following Interventions

Admit to the hospital/ICU Aggressive resuscitation Start IV with isotonic crystalloid solution ( NS or LR) Insert Foley catheter Monitor response to resuscitation

Administer broad spectrum antibiotics Likely intra-abdominal septic process


What further studies would you want at this time?

Studies, Mrs. Mitty

Abdominal X-rays Flat / Upright Acute Abdominal Series (may include chest at some institutions)

Studies Results
Plain abdominal films
Diffuse dilation of small bowel w/ air fluid levels on upright view. Some air in Left colon and Rectum. NO free air

What is the differential diagnosis at this point?

Revised Differential Diagnosis

1) Acute Mesenteric Ischemia 2) Strangulated small bowel obstruction 3) Diverticulitis w/ contained perforation?

What next?

What next?
Mesenteric Angiogram or CT Angiogram

With the sudden onset of symptoms, h/o Afib, and pain out of proportion to physical exam, acute mesenteric ischemia should be high on the Differential Diagnosis A mesenteric angiogram will allow visualization of the visceral vessels (celiac, SMA, IMA)

Mesenteric Angiogram

Note complete lack of contrast in mesenteric vessels in AP view (left). The occluded origins of the celiac axis and superior mesenteric artery are demonstrated in the Lateral view (right).

CT Angiogram

Note complete occlusion and lack of IV contrast filling the superior mesenteric artery from its origin from the aorta (Arrows).

Other studies

CT angiogram / MR angiogram
sensitivity 75%, specificity 100% for emboli additionally can detect thickened, distended

bowel loops more sensitive for Mesenteric Venous Thrombosis


What should be done next?

Pre-operative preparation Assure adequate resuscitation Monitoring Foley Catheter Urgent exploration Surgical embolectomy Assess bowel viability

Pre-operative preparation

Assure adequate resuscitation Monitoring

Non-invasive: EKG, BP, Pulse Oximetry, foley catheter Consider invasive monitoring: Central venous catheter,

PA Catheter ? Arterial line?

Operative Technique/ Urgent exploration

Midline Laparotomy Relevant Anatomy Surgical Embolectomy Assess bowel viability

Surgical Embolectomy
Pack bowel to Right, Expose SMA Arteriotomy Pass balloon embolectomy catheter

Assess bowel viability Resect if necessary

Necrotic bowel from mesenteric ischemia.

Acute mesenteric ischemia is a vascular emergency with overall mortality 60-80%. There are four main pathophysiologic processes which have the same common endpoint, bowel necrosis, abdominal sepsis, and death. Mesenteric arterial anatomy is notable for rich collateral flow between the celiac trunk, superior mesenteric artery, and inferior mesenteric artery. Gradual occlusion of 2 of the 3 vessels is tolerable as rich collateral branches form between these. Acute occlusion of any of the vessels or their branches causes acute intestinal ischemia and necrosis.

The four processes: 1) Acute arterial embolus -usually from cardiogenic embolus in pts w/ Afib or valvular disorders. SMA is the common vessel affected as it has a less acute take off from aorta 2) Acute arterial thrombosis - chronic atherosclerotic plaque at origin of vessel acutely thromboses 3) Chronic mesenteric ischemia - atherosclerosis of visceral vessels results in abdominal pain (intestinal angina) during times of increased blood demand (digestion) 4) Acute venous occlusion - venous thrombosis causes cessation of venous outflow from intestines
*Non-occlusive mesenteric ischemia can also be seen in low-flow states

Diagnosis - requires high degree of suspicion. Classically presents as
pain out of proportion to physical exam or severe pain w/o peritoneal signs. The history of Cardiac disease, valvular disease, or Afib should alert one to an embolic disease. Gold standard for diagnosis is mesenteric angiogram, but CT angiogram is more and more being used.

Treatment - requires aggressive resuscitation and hemodynamic

monitoring as patients become critically ill very quickly. Urgent surgery w/ viseral revascularization (embolectomy, thrombectomy, endarterectomy, or bypass) is required. After this, evaluation of viability of bowel segments should be performed with resection of any necrotic portions.


Townsend CM. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 17th Edition Cameron JL. Current Surgical Therapy. 8th Edition Oldenburg et al. Acute Mesenteric Ischemia. Arch Intern Med 164:1054-62. 2004

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