What is SMA syndrome?
The superior mesenteric artery (SMA) is a major blood vessel that supplies blood to part of the small intestine and colon (large intestine). It crosses over a part of the small intestine called the duodenum. Sometimes the duodenum gets trapped between the superior mesenteric artery and the aorta (the body’s largest artery), which can cause an obstruction of the small bowel. This is known as superior mesenteric artery syndrome.
What causes superior mesenteric artery syndrome?
The cause of SMA syndrome is not completely understood, but doctors have identified some patterns in people who have it. Those with SMA syndrome tend to have:
- Lordosis (lower curvature of the spine)
- Decreased muscle tone in the abdomen
- Rapid weight loss from things like bariatric surgery, nutritional deficiency or cancer
Who gets superior mesenteric artery syndrome?
It’s hard to predict who will get SMA syndrome. It does not affect certain groups of people more than others.
What are the signs and symptoms of superior mesenteric artery syndrome?
SMA symptoms tend to develop rapidly and commonly include:
- Severe abdominal pain after eating
- Feeling full quickly or after eating only a small amount
- Severe nausea
- Vomiting (bilious or green)
- Weight loss
What tests are used to diagnose superior mesenteric artery syndrome?
If your child’s doctor suspect SMA syndrome, they will order tests to look for obstruction of the small bowel. These tests include:
- Abdominal X-ray: These help your child’s doctor determine if the gas pattern is normal or if further imaging is needed.
- CT with oral contrast: This test is more precise than an X-ray and will allow your child’s doctor to see the entire anatomy within the abdomen.
At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we use imaging equipment designed for kids. The contrast liquid used in these imagining tests must contain a small amount of radioactive material to work. We ensure that we use the smallest amount we can. Our pediatric radiology team is trained in reading these images specifically for children, so they know to look for the small details.
How is superior mesenteric artery syndrome treated?
Treatment for SMA syndrome aims to identify and treat the underlying cause. Typically, gaining weight helps improve the condition. Your child’s doctor may recommend a nasogastric tube (NG tube) or a feeding tube called a transpyloric tube to help your child get the proper nutrition and gain weight. An NG tube also helps empty the stomach to relieve nausea and vomiting.
Why choose us for treatment of superior mesenteric artery syndrome?
Our pediatric surgery and gastroenterology teams work closely with nutritionists to make sure your child gets the nutrition they need to help them gain weight. Together, our experts provide comprehensive care for your child to help avoid more complex forms of treatment such as surgery.