Dead bowel syndrome

Dead bowel syndrome, or intestinal ischemia and infarction, is a medical condition that damages or kills tissue in a person’s intestinal tract. This disorder results from a loss of blood flow to the intestines. Doctors may correct dead bowel syndrome with treatment that often includes surgery.

Untreated intestinal ischemia and infarction can result in a medical emergency and death.


Acute intestinal ischemia or dead bowel is a condition that develops quickly when blood flow to or from the intestines is blocked and may cause mild to severe pain in the abdomen, bloody stools and bowel movements that are frequent and urgent. Chronic intestinal ischemia develops when intestinal blood flow is reduced over an extended period of time and may cause abdominal cramps after eating, unusual weight loss and pain in the abdomen that increases over a period of weeks.


A dead bowel can develop from several different causes including a hernia that tangles or moves the intestine. Scar tissue from past surgeries can trap the intestines and cause a dead bowel. A blood clot or a blockage from cholesterol build-up may block an artery that supplies a person’s intestines. People with cancer, liver disease or a blood clotting disorder may develop a blockage in the veins that carry blood from the intestines and blood may back up into the intestines.


A doctor may perform one or more medical tests to help him diagnose intestinal ischemia or dead bowel such as an X-ray to view the area around the intestinal tract. An ultrasound can provide evidence of decreased blood flow. A colonoscopy procedure provides detailed images of the inside of the large intestine using a tiny camera attached to a thin tube that is inserted into the rectum and guided through the colon.


Physicians usually treat dead bowel syndrome with surgery to bypass blockages in arteries or to remove blood clots from blood vessels near the intestines. Doctors surgically remove dead tissue and reattach portions of the colon on either side of a removed section. People with this condition may undergo an angioplasty procedure in which a stent is placed inside a blood vessel to improve blood flow. Patients may receive medication to reduce blood clotting, dilate blood vessels to improve blood flow or dissolve blood clots.


Blood flow blockage in the bowel can cause scar tissue to grow and narrow the bowel. Doctors may surgically remove excessive scar tissue. A patient who has dead portions of her intestine surgically removed may not have enough healthy intestinal tissue remaining and may require an ostomy. Surgeons pull a section of the intestinal tract and connect it to an opening in the abdomen during an ostomy procedure. Patients with this complication expel bodily waste into a special bag attached to the abdominal opening.