The University of Arizona
Department of Surgery

About Narrowing of the Intestinal (Visceral) Arteries

Narrowing in the arteries that supply blood to the intestines can cause a series of reactions that can ultimately put the intestines at risk — a potentially fatal condition.

What are the symptoms of narrowing of the intestinal arteries?

Patients with narrowing in the intestinal arteries feel belly pain after eating, especially after large meals, a symptom called "chronic mesenteric ischemia."

This pain often makes patients afraid to eat (or to eat enough), causing them to lose weight. If this cycle continues, patients become weak and malnourished and risk their intestines dying. Having dead intestines is a surgical emergency that carries a high risk of death.

What causes the narrowing in the intestinal arteries?

The most common cause of narrowing in the intestinal arteries is peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

How can I tell if my belly pain is from narrowing in my intestinal arteries?

Patients with chronic mesenteric ischemia from narrowing in the intestinal arteries will always feel pain in the belly after a large meal and may feel pain after any meal.

If this symptom is present and chronic, a non-invasive vascular ultrasound can be used to look for narrowing in the two major intestinal arteries. If the intestinal arteries cannot be adequate visualized, a CT scan is the next best test.

Since the symptoms of intestinal artery narrowing can overlap with other medical problems, several tests are frequently needed to rule out other causes of the belly pain (such as gallstones, and stomach ulcers).

What are the risks of surgery to repair intestinal artery narrowing?

Bleeding, infection and death are possible with all procedures, but are rare when treating narrowed intestinal arteries. Loss of the blood flow to the intestine is another rare but possible complication, and one that would require emergency surgery to correct.

Learn More about Treatment Options and Our Expertise

Patient Information