Ischemic colitis is a condition that occurs when blood flow to the large intestine (colon) becomes blocked. This can lead to inflammation of the colon and in some cases, permanent colon damage. However, most cases of the disorder are mild, and people suffering from ischemic colitis usually recover quickly.

Although ischemic colitis can affect any part of the colon, most people will experience pain on the left side of the abdomen accompanied by bloody diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and low-grade fevers.


Oftentimes there is no medical reason for the reduced blood flow to the colon. The disorder is more commonly found among people with a history of heart and blood vessel disease, people who have had surgery on their aorta, or people who have blood-clotting problems. Other causes include:

  • Diabetes
  • Radiation treatment to the abdomen
  • Colon cancer
  • Dehydration

In rare cases, some medications may play a role in the development of ischemic colitis, including:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Estrogen replacement therapy
  • Migraine medications
  • Blood pressure lowering drugs
  • Some antipsychotic drugs
  • Lotronex, a medication for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome

Risk Factors

Age is one of the biggest risk factors for ischemic colitis, primarily affecting people 60 and older. Elevated cholesterol levels and tobacco use also may increase your chances of developing this condition. Certain medical problems such as abdominal surgery, heart failure, low blood pressure, and shock also predispose you to ischemic colitis.

Getting a Diagnosis

If you experience any signs and symptoms of ischemic colitis, including bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain, see your doctor immediately. During the office visit, your doctor will take your medical history and give you a physical examination. If your doctor suspects ischemic colitis, she will recommend that you have a colonoscopy, which is the definitive test for diagnosing the condition. Other tests your doctor may recommend include:

  • X-rays of the abdomen
  • Ultrasound
  • Abdominal computerized tomography (CT) scans
  • Blood tests
  • Stool sample


Treatment for ischemic colitis is based on the severity of your condition. In some cases, medications may be prescribed to keep your blood pressure at normal levels. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the affected part of the colon.

Preventive Steps

Although the cause of ischemic colitis isn't always clear, there are some things you can do to reduce your chances of developing the condition including:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Taking cholesterol-lowering medications
  • Controlling chronic diseases like diabetes
  • Exercising regularly