Not just a stomach ache

Published: Feb. 28, 2019 at 10:37 AM EST
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(02/28/2019) -- Chronic mesenteric ischemia causes severe stomach pain and is often overlooked or misdiagnosed. It affects fewer than 200,000 people a year in the US, and vascular surgeons can now treat the condition with a procedure that means a faster recovery.

Angela Kulacki and her fiancée Jim had been searching for answers for Kulacki’s chronic stomach pain. For almost ten years, she’d eat, and then double over.

“People would tell me I was very pale. ‘What’s the matter with you, you’re losing so much weight? You look terrible,” Kulacki said.

Kulacki suspected an ulcer. Her doctor thought gall bladder.

Kulacki shared, “After they took my gall bladder out, I still had the same pain.”

Finally, Kulacki was referred to Paul Lucas, MD, FACS, RPVI, Vascular Surgeon at Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore.

An ultrasound of the abdominal wall showed plaque was clogging the major arteries leading to Kulacki’s small intestines, blocking blood flow. It’s called chronic mesenteric ischemia.

The condition causes weight loss, pain after eating and fear of food.

“If left untreated, it can lead to a condition called acute mesenteric ischemia, which can be a life-threatening emergency,” Dr. Lucas.

Now, doctors can treat the condition by implanting a small stent and using balloon angioplasty to open the blocked vessel, avoiding invasive open surgery. Kulacki’s stomach pain disappeared just a few days after the procedure. Four months later, she’s feeling better than ever.

Kulacki says she has regained most of the 12 pounds she lost in the past year when the condition was most acute. Dr. Lucas says patients with stomach pain and risk factors like high cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking should mention the condition to their physician so they can be evaluated.