Angiodysplasia is a condition that occurs due to the formation of swollen blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract. It is not related to colon cancer or other vascular disorders and is not generally life-threatening. However, if it is not treated, it can cause bleeding. In some cases, the bleed may be heavy and require medical treatment. The signs and symptoms of angiodysplasia can be similar to those of iron deficiency anemia, although a number of other factors must be considered.
Symptoms of angiodysplasia vary depending on the location and size of the GI lesion. In severe cases, bleeding may become so extensive that surgery may be required to reduce or eliminate the lesion. For patients with milder forms of angiodysplasia, the bleeding usually stops spontaneously. But in those who have a recurring bleed, treatment is usually required.
If a patient presents with a bloody stool, anemia, or hemorrhoids, they should consider undergoing a fecal immunochemical test. This is a test that detects occult blood in the stool, which will only be positive in anemic patients. Fecal occult blood testing is not a substitute for upper and lower endoscopy. A colonoscopy is usually the first step in diagnosing angiodysplasia, but it should only be performed if the patient is medically fit. During a colonoscopy, a thin tube with a camera on the end is placed on the end of the colon.
The main symptom of angiodysplasia is anemia. This is common in older adults, and is associated with age-related changes in the blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract. Anemia symptoms can also include shortness of breath, fatigue, and muscle aches. Depending on the severity of the disease, the patient may need blood transfusion. Treatments for angiodysplasia can include iron pill supplementation or electrocoagulation, which uses heat to destroy abnormal tissue. Electrocoagulation involves heating the walls of an ectatic blood vessel with an electric current. Other procedures for angiodysplasia include injection sclerotherapy, band ligation, and embolization.
Patients with symptomatic angiodysplasia will usually present with upper and lower GI bleeding. Bleeding may be bright red, or it may be less visible. Angiodysplasia is frequently located in the ascending colon, but it can occur in other parts of the GI tract. When a recurrent bleed begins, it can lead to a decrease in the blood count. Because of the potential for hemodynamic instability, patients with symptomatic angiodysplasia should be monitored in an intensive care setting. Angiodysplasia should be treated according to the severity of the bleeding, the patient’s underlying hemodynamic stability, and the presence of other comorbid conditions.
Symptomatic angiodysplasia is typically associated with anemia, thrombocytopenia, and intermittent bleeding. A number of tests are needed to determine the cause of the bleed. These tests include imaging studies, such as CT scan, and anemia tests. Some of the tests used to detect the cause of anemia are renal function tests and serum iron levels.
Angiodysplasia is usually not life-threatening, but if it becomes severe, patients can experience bleeding that is painless and recurrent. In severe cases, surgery is often necessary to remove part of the intestine. The goal of treatment is to restore proper perfusion to the GI tract.