Medical Specialties: Cardiology, Family practice, Internal medicine, Neurology

Clinical Definition

Ischemia is an insufficient blood supply to an organ or part of the body, adversely affecting blood flow and oxygen delivery, such as in myocardial ischemia. Visceral ischemic syndromes, also known as intestinal or mesenteric ischemic syndromes, occur when blood flow to the gastrointestinal system is decreased. 

In Our Own Words

Ischemia is an inadequate blood supply to any part of the body or an organ. Prolonged ischemia leads to tissue death, or infarction. When blood flow is restricted or reduced, the cells are starved of oxygen and glucose, and waste products build up. Restoring blood flow or reducing the demand for it may reverse the ischemia in some cases.


Cardiac ischemia is inadequate blood flow to the heart. Visceral ischemic syndrome is inadequate blood flow to the bowel or intestines due to a blood vessel blockage. Cerebral ischemia in the brain can result in a stroke, unless it is just a brief disruption of blood flow, in which case it is termed a “transient ischemic attack,” or TIA.


In cardiac ischemia, many people don't experience symptoms that they recognize as coming from their heart. Those with previous heart attacks or with diabetes are especially at risk for this silent ischemia. It can be detected with tests such as an exercise stress test or continuous monitoring of your heart activity. Surgical and nonsurgical treatments may help restore blood flow to areas of ischemia.

Relevant Conditions
  • Coronary artery disease (heart disease)
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Angina
  • TIA and stroke
  • Infarction
Common Types
  • Heart (myocardial)
  • Bowel/intestines (visceral)
  • Brain (cerebral)
Side Effects
  • Myocardial - Chest pain (angina pectoris)
  • Cerebral – Symptoms of TIA or stroke such as confusion, numbness, weakness
  • Visceral – Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting
Share this article
  • Harvard Medical School. "Medical Dictionary of Health Terms." 2013. Accessed September 2013.
  • American Heart Association. "Silent Ischemia and Ischemic Heart Disease." Conditions. November 2012. Accessed Sept. 2013.
  • The Cleveland Clinic. ''Visceral Ischemic Syndrome." Diseases & Conditions. 2013. Accessed September 2013.
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