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Angiodysplasia of the Gastrointestinal Tract

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is angiodysplasia of the gastrointestinal tract?

Angiodysplasia occurs when blood vessels in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract become swollen. The swelling can weaken the blood vessels and cause bleeding. Angiodysplasia can occur in any part of the GI tract, but most often occurs in the colon.

What causes or increases my risk for angiodysplasia?

The exact cause of angiodysplasia is not known. Normal movements in your colon can cause your blood vessels to swell. Over time, the swelling can cause an abnormal connection between arteries and veins. This is called an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). An AVM causes the walls of the vein to weaken and leak blood. Older age (60 years and older) increases your risk for angiodysplasia. Certain medical conditions, such as kidney disease and von Willebrand disease, also increases your risk.

What are the signs and symptoms of angiodysplasia?

You may not have any signs or symptoms. You may have bleeding from your rectum or blood in your bowel movements that come and go. Over time, this blood loss can lead to anemia. Anemia is a low number of red blood cells. This prevents your body from carrying enough oxygen to your body. Anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.

How is angiodysplasia diagnosed?

  • A sample of your bowel movement may be taken and tested for blood.
  • Angiography pictures may be taken to show your arteries and blood flow. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • An endoscopy is a procedure used to look at the inside of your esophagus and stomach with an endoscope. An endoscope is a bendable tube with a light and camera on the end. Your healthcare provider may remove a small sample of tissue and send it to a lab for tests.
  • A colonoscopy is a procedure to look at the inside of your colon. A flexible tube with a small light and camera on the end is used. Your healthcare provider may remove a small sample of tissue and send it to a lab for tests.

How is angiodysplasia treated?

You may not need any treatment. The bleeding may stop on its own. You may need any of the following:

  • Procedures may be done to seal or clot your blood vessels. Argon gas, a laser, or heat may be used to seal the bleeding blood vessel. Clips may also be used to close the bleeding vessel. These treatments may be given during an endoscopy or colonoscopy.
  • Medicines , such as hormones, may be given to help slow or stop the bleeding. Other medicines, such as epinephrine, may be injected right into the bleeding vessels during an endoscopy or colonoscopy.
  • Surgery to remove the affected part of your colon may be needed if you have severe bleeding.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have heavy bleeding from your rectum.
  • You have shortness of breath.
  • You vomit blood.
  • Your abdomen is larger than usual and very painful.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms do not improve, even after treatment.
  • You have dark or bloody bowel movements.
  • You feel very tired and weak.
  • You have nausea.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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