Angiodysplasia of the colon is a very befuddling sounding term which essentially describes a condition of enlarged and fragile blood vessels in the colon that result in occasional loss of blood from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Most often found in older adults, angiodysplasia of the colon is mostly related to the aging and degeneration of the blood vessels.
While various ideas exist about the cause of this condition, many medical professionals feel that the most likely cause is that normal spasms of the colon lead to enlargement of blood vessels in the area. This swelling becomes so severe that a small direct passageway develops between a very small artery and vein. This is called an arteriovenous fistula. It is in this area of the colon wall that the patient is at risk for bleeding.
Angiodysplasia of the colon is its own disorder and should not be confused with cancer or cancerous conditions, conditions or diseases of the blood vessels or Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome or diverticulosis which can also cause intestinal bleeding.
Symptoms of this uncomfortable and often upsetting condition will, of course, vary from patient to patient. Bright red blood from the rectum, nausea and dizziness may indicate anemia due to blood loss and low iron. Fortunately, unlike other digestive and intestinal conditions, there is no pain associated with this condition. Some patients may have dark or black, tarry stools.
Tests that may be done to diagnose this condition include:
Angiography (only useful if there is active bleeding into the colon)
Complete blood count (CBC) to check for anemia
Stool guaiac test (a positive test result suggests bleeding from the colon)
Any time there is a condition where blood loss is involved, it is of utmost importance that a diagnostic procedure be used to determine a) what the condition is, b) how much blood has been lost or is regularly being lost and c) what complications (such as anemia) have resulted due to the loss of blood.
The patient's condition must be evaluated continuously and may need to be admitted to a hospital's intensive care unit (ICU). Fluids may be given through a vein, and blood products may be required.
Treatment begins once the source of bleeding is found. Fortunately, many patients stop bleeding on their own without any treatment. However, the following treatments are used if necessary:
Angiography to help form a clot in the bleeding area or to deliver medicine to help cause the blood vessels to tighten to stop the bleeding
Burning (cauterizing) the site of the bleed with heat or a laser using a colonoscopy
Using electrical energy (argon plasma coagulation) to stop bleeding
In some instances, surgery is the only option. Removal of the entire right side of the colon (right hemicolectomy) is the treatment of choice for someone with this condition who continues to bleed at a dangerously quick rate, despite several treatments by angiography and colonoscopy. Patients who have bleeding related to this condition despite having had colonoscopy, angiography, or surgery are likely to have more bleeding in the future.
The goal of therapy is to reduce, if not totally eliminate, the number of bleeds, hospitalizations, and blood transfusions. Surgery may be a cure in some cases. The outlook remains good if the bleeding is controlled.
Some real complications that can occur if this condition is not properly treated are as follows:
Death from excessive blood loss
Side effects from treatment
Severe loss of blood from the GI tract
Please make an appointment immediately with your health care provider if you experience any unusual blood loss or if you have unusually dark black or tarry looking stools.
Aimee Boyle is a freelance writer, teacher and mother in CT http://www.straightandnarrow.yolasite.com