Blood clots in the abdomen can cause intestinal ischaemia

British Heart Foundation: Understanding blood clots

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Blood clots are small clumps of blood that become gel-like. A certain amount of clotting is important as it prevents excessive bleeding when we get cut. However, clots that don’t naturally dissolve are reason for concern.

This is because they can travel to vital organs causing medical emergencies.

Commonly known emergencies caused by blood clots include strokes, which occur if blood supply to the brain is cut off, or pulmonary embolisms, which are triggered by a clot in the lungs.

A lesser known problem that can be caused by a clot is intestinal ischaemia.

Intestinal ischaemia is the name for a range of conditions that occur when blood flow to your intestines is reduced.

The Mayo Clinic explains: “Ischaemia can be due to a fully or partially blocked blood vessel, usually an artery, or low blood pressure leading to an overall reduced blood flow. Intestinal ischemia can affect your small intestine, your large intestine (colon) or both.

“The decreased blood flow doesn’t provide enough oxygen for the cells in your digestive system.

“Intestinal ischaemia is a serious condition that can cause pain and make it difficult for your intestines to work properly.

“In severe cases, loss of blood flow to the intestines can damage intestinal tissue and possibly lead to death.”

The clinic lists one cause of intestinal ischaemia as the “blockage in an artery caused by a blood clot”.

Symptoms of a blood clot in the abdomen can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloating.

If you experience “sudden” or “severe” abdominal pain the clinic advises seeking immediate medical attention.

But if you experience other symptoms that are less severe it still recommends booking an appointment with your doctor.

Intestinal ischaemia, like a stroke, is not always caused by blood clots though.

It can also be the result of:

  • The narrowing of an artery due to buildup of fatty deposits, such as cholesterol (atherosclerosis)
  • Low blood pressure leading to an overall reduced blood flow.

Other symptoms of intestinal ischemia include:

  • An urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • Frequent, forceful bowel movements
  • Blood in your stool
  • Mental confusion in older adults.

If the symptoms aren’t picked up in time, intestinal ischemia can lead to a number of serious complications.

According to the Mayo Clinic these include:

  • Death of intestinal tissue
  • A hole through the wall of the intestines
  • Scarring or narrowing of your intestine.

A number of factors contribute to blood clots.

To reduce your risk of unwanted clots the NHS suggests:

  • Staying active
  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Quitting smoking.

However, you are also at increased risk of clots if you are using hormonal contraception, are pregnant or have just given birth or have an inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis.

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