BALTIMORE - Chronic mesenteric ischemia causes severe stomach pain and is often overlooked or misdiagnosed.
The rare condition affects fewer than 200,000 people a year in the United States.
Angela Kulacki had been searching for answers to her chronic stomach pain.
For almost 10 years, she would eat and then double over.
"People would tell me I was very pale, (and say,) 'What's the matter with you? You're losing so much weight. You look terrible,'" Kulacki said.
Kulacki suspected an ulcer and her doctor thought it was her gall bladder.
"After they took my gall bladder out, I still had the same pain," she said.
Kulacki was referred to Dr. Paul Lucas, a vascular surgeon at Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore.
An ultrasound of the abdominal wall showed plaque was clogging the major arteries leading to Kulacki's small intestines, which was blocking blood flow.
Kulacki was diagnosed with chronic mesenteric ischemia, which causes weight loss, pain after eating and fear of food.
"If left untreated ... it can be a life-threatening emergency," Lucas said.
Doctors can treat the condition by implanting a small stent and using balloon angioplasty to open the blocked vessel, avoiding invasive open surgery.
Kulacki's stomach pain disappeared just a few days after the procedure. Four months later, she's feeling better than ever.
Kulacki has regained most of the 12 pounds she lost in the past year when the condition was most acute.
Lucas said patients with stomach pain and risk factors, such as high cholesterol, diabetes or smoking, should mention the condition to their physician so they can be evaluated.
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