Ischemic colitis differential diagnosis

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Hamid Qazi, MD, BSc [2]


Ischemic colitis must be differentiated from the many other causes of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and diarrhea such as infection, inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulosis, or colon cancer. It is also important to differentiate ischemic colitis, which often resolves on its own, from the more immediately life-threatening condition of acute mesenteric ischemia of the small bowel.

Differentiating ischemic colitis from other Diseases

The differential of ischemic colitis is as follows:[1][2]

Diseases History and Symptoms Physical Examination Laboratory findings
Diarrhea Rectal bleeding Abdominal pain Atopy Dehydration Fever Hypotension Malnutrition Blood in stool (frank or occult) Microorganism in stool Pseudomembranes on endoscopy
Allergic Colitis + ++ + ++ ++
Chemical colitis + ++ ++ + + ++ +
Infectious colitis ++ ++ ++ +++ +++ ++ + ++ ++ +
Radiation colitis + ++ + + + ++
Ischemic colitis + + ++ + + + + ++
Drug-induced colitis + + ++ + ++ +

The differential diagnosis of abdominal pain are:

Classification of acute abdomen based

on etiology

Presentation Clinical findings Diagnosis Comments
Fever Rigors and Chills Abdominal Pain Jaundice Hypotension Guarding Rebound Tenderness Bowel sounds Lab Findings Imaging
Common causes of


Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis + Diffuse Hypoactive
  • Ascitic fluid PMN>250 cells/mm³
  • Culture: Positive for single organism
Ultrasound for evaluation of liver cirrhosis -
Perforated gastric and duodenal ulcer + Diffuse + + + N
  • Ascitic fluid
    • LDH > serum LDH
    • Glucose < 50mg/dl
    • Total protein > 1g/dl
Air under diaphragm in upright CXR Upper GI endoscopy for diagnosis
Acute suppurative cholangitis + + RUQ + + + + ±
Acute cholangitis + RUQ + N Abnormal LFT Ultrasound shows biliary dilatation Biliary drainage (ERCP) + IV antibiotics
Acute cholecystitis + RUQ + Hypoactive Ultrasound shows gallstone and evidence of inflammation Murphy’s sign
Acute pancreatitis + Epigastric ± N Increased amylase / lipase Ultrasound shows evidence of inflammation Pain radiation to back
Acute appendicitis + RLQ + + Hypoactive Leukocytosis Ultrasound shows evidence of inflammation Nausea & vomiting, decreased appetite
Acute diverticulitis + LLQ ± + Hypoactive Leukocytosis CT scan and ultrasound shows evidence of inflammation
Hollow Viscous Obstruction Small intestine obstruction Diffuse + ± Hyperactive then absent Leukocytosis Abdominal X ray Nausea & vomiting associated with constipation, abdominal distention
Gall stone disease/Cholelithiasis ±
Volvulus - Diffuse - + - Hypoactive Leukocytosis CT scan and abdominal X ray Nausea & vomiting associated with constipation, abdominal distention
Biliary colic - RUQ + - - N Increased bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase Ultrasound Nausea & vomiting
Renal colic - Flank pain - - - N Hematuria CT scan and ultrasound Colicky abdominal pain associated with nausea & vomiting
Vascular Disorders Ischemic causes Mesenteric ischemia ± Periumbilical - - - Hyperactive Leukocytosis and lactic acidosis CT scan Nausea & vomiting, normal physical examination
Acute ischemic colitis ± Diffuse - + + Hyperactive then absent Leukocytosis CT scan Nausea & vomiting
Hemorrhagic causes Ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm - Diffuse - - - N Normal CT scan Unstable hemodynamics
Intra-abdominal or retroperitoneal hemorrhage - Diffuse - - - N Anemia CT scan History of trauma
Gynaecological Causes Fallopian tube Acute salpingitis + LLQ/ RLQ ± ± N Leukocytosis Pelvic ultrasound Vaginal discharge
Ovarian cyst complications and endometrial disease Torsion of the cyst - RLQ / LLQ - ± ± N Increased ESR and CRP Ultrasound Sudden onset sever pain with nausea and vomiting
Endometriosis - RLQ/LLQ - +/- +/- N Normal Laproscopy Menstrual-associated symptoms, pelvic


Cyst rupture - RLQ / LLQ - +/- +/- N Increased ESR and CRP Ultrasound Sudden onset sever pain with nausea and vomiting
Pregnancy Ruptured ectopic pregnancy - RLQ / LLQ - - - N Positive pregnancy test Ultrasound History of missed period and vaginal bleeding
Functional Irritable Bowel Syndrome - Diffuse - - - - N

Clinical diagnosis



  1. Thielman NM, Guerrant RL (2004). "Clinical practice. Acute infectious diarrhea.". N Engl J Med. 350 (1): 38–47. PMID 14702426. doi:10.1056/NEJMcp031534. 
  2. Khan AM, Faruque AS, Hossain MS, Sattar S, Fuchs GJ, Salam MA (2004). "Plesiomonas shigelloides-associated diarrhoea in Bangladeshi children: a hospital-based surveillance study.". J Trop Pediatr. 50 (6): 354–6. PMID 15537721. doi:10.1093/tropej/50.6.354.