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Am J Surg Pathol. 1991 Nov;15(11):1078-82.

Bleeding due to colorectal atheroembolism. Diagnosis by biopsy of adenomatous polyps or of ischemic ulcer.

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  • 1Department of Histopathology, St. James's Hospital, Dublin, Ireland.


Atheroembolism, although not infrequent at autopsy, is seldom identified in life, when it may present as a multisystem disease involving lower limbs, kidney, and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Diagnosis of isolated GI involvement usually requires examination of surgically resected tissue, because recognition by endoscopic GI biopsy is exceptional. We diagnosed colorectal atheroembolism by biopsy in four patients. All were elderly (68-80 years old) and had generalized atheroma, including aortic aneurysms. Three patients had sudden onset of frank rectal bleeding with clots or bloody diarrhea, lower abdominal discomfort, and tenderness. Biopsy revealed atheroemboli in a rectal ischemic ulcer and in colorectal adenomatous polyps. In all three, disease resolved on conservative management and did not recur during the period of follow-up. In the fourth patient, asymptomatic atheroembolism was identified in an adenomatous polyp at the splenic flexure. Extraintestinal disease attributable to atheroembolism was not present in any of the patients. Atheroembolism with manifestations confined to the colon may sometimes be diagnosed by biopsy, appears to be more frequent than currently recognized, and may present a diagnostic challenge as a self-limited episode of rectal bleeding.

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