YOUR HEALTH: Don’t let chronic stomach pains make you afraid to eat

Some stomach aches are so bad the patient is afraid to eat. A doctor found a treatment that worked for one woman.

BALTIMORE, Maryland – Angela Kulacki and her fiance' Jim had been searching for answers for Angela's chronic stomach pain.
For almost ten years, she'd eat and then double over.

"People would tell me I was very pale. 'What's the matter with you, you're losing so much weight? You look terrible'."

Angela suspected an ulcer.  Her doctor thought gall bladder.

"After they took my gall bladder out, I still had the same pain."

Finally, Angela was referred to vascular surgeon Paul Lucas.

An ultrasound of the abdominal wall showed plaque was clogging the major arteries leading to Angela's small intestines, blocking blood flow.

It's called chronic mesenteric ischemia.

"Never heard of it, ever in my life."

HOW IT WORKS:   The traditional treatment was an open abdominal surgery, with a bypass of those stenotic ordinary vessels.   More recently, there is minimally invasive approaches that we tend to use more often now, which would involve an angiogram just placing a catheter in the artery using an IV contrast and dye, then we can treat it with balloon angioplasty and stents.   In terms of recovery, Dr. Lucas says patients can return to their normal diet as long as they can tolerate it.

The condition causes weight loss, pain after eating, and fear of food.

"If left untreated, it can lead to a condition called acute mesenteric ischemia, which can be a life-threatening emergency," explained Dr. Paul Lucas, vascular surgeon at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center.

Now, doctors can treat the condition by implanting a small stent and using balloon angioplasty to open the blocked vessel, avoiding invasive open surgery.

Angela's stomach pain disappeared just a few days after the procedure.

Four months later, she's feeling better than ever.

Angela says she has regained most of the 12 pounds she lost in the past year when the condition was most acute.

Dr. Lucas says patients with stomach pain and risk factors like high cholesterol, diabetes, or smoking should mention the condition to their physician so they can be evaluated.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.