This month, we’ve been bringing you a variety of heart-related stories in recognition of American Heart Month. Today’s blog shines a light on a lesser known heart and vascular condition called Mesenteric Artery Ischemia (MAI). It can cause severe pain for those with this rare but treatable condition.
Most common in adults over age 60, MAI is a condition that restricts blood flow to the intestines. When the intestines don’t get enough oxygen-rich blood, serious health problems can arise.
Symptoms include abdominal pain and tenderness, bloating or a sense of fullness, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and fever. In some cases, patients experience intense stomach pain after eating, often causing them to develop a fear of eating. Maureen Mylott was one such patient. Here’s her story in her own words.
“Severe Pain and Nausea Made Me Fearful to Eat Anything”
As I enjoy my favorite food, a heaping plate of mashed potatoes and gravy, I still can’t believe it was just a year ago that I couldn’t eat a single meal without bellowing in agony over the excruciating pain in my stomach.
I didn’t have a history of digestive problems and had always eaten the foods I loved with no issue. However, over a course of a year, I went from experiencing mild discomfort that I attributed to acid reflux, to involuntarily regurgitating all the foods I attempted to eat, followed by a pain so deep in my stomach it almost made me faint. It got to a point that the severe abdominal pain and debilitating nausea made me fearful to eat anything.
I tried several gastroenterologists desperate to find a cure. During those visits, I experienced numerous endoscopy procedures studying my esophagus, stomach and intestines. While I was a good patient and changed my eating habits per the doctors’ recommendations, with every swallow, I experienced burning pains shooting through my gut. I was barely eating crumbs just to get by with a little bit of food, and still the pain and nausea were debilitating.
My weight dropped from 140 to 99 lbs. I became very depressed and at times didn’t want to live anymore. Finally, one night when the pain was so bad I couldn’t move, my daughter rushed me to the Emergency Center at Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital.
Clogged Arteries in the Gut?
Kousta Foteh, MD, a vascular surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital was the treating physician the day I arrived to the Emergency Center.
After listening to the symptoms I’d experienced over the year and performing a scan, Dr. Foteh determined I had a blockage in my superior mesenteric artery. He performed an angiogram, where he placed a stent in my blocked artery, immediately providing relief and restoring blood flow to my gut region.
After the operation, I was starving but I was terrified to eat. Dr. Foteh and the attending nurses encouraged me to eat. I was worried, but my hunger took over. I ordered a cheeseburger and took very small bites until the burger was completely gone. I waited nervously. Minutes went by, then hours. I couldn’t believe it! For the first time in over a year, I ate a meal with absolutely no pain.
A year later, I can eat all my favorite foods, including mashed potatoes and gravy, grapefruit and watermelon. I’ve regained the weight I lost and my appetite is back to normal.
I don’t know what I would have done without Dr. Foteh. I am so grateful to him for giving me my life back!