Superior mesenteric artery syndrome is a rare digestive system disorder. The superior mesenteric artery provides blood to the small intestine, cecum, and colon. It crosses over the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. Symptoms occur when the artery obstructs the duodenum.

Symptoms include:

  • abdominal fullness,
  • bloating after meals,
  • nausea and vomiting of partially digested food, and
  • mid-abdominal “crampy” pain that may be relieved by the prone (lying on the stomach) or knee-chest position.

A number of factors may contribute to the syndrome, including:

  • prolonged bed rest,
  • weight loss,
  • rapid growth,
  • previous abdominal surgery,
  • increased curvature in the lumbar portion of the spin (lordosis),
  • use of body casts, and
  • loss of tone in abdominal wall musculature.

The syndrome has also been reported in conjunction with pancreatitis, peptic ulcer, and other intra-abdominal inflammatory conditions.


Treatment approaches have included small feedings or a liquid diet.  Symptoms typically improve after restoration of lost weight or removal of a body cast.  Modern imaging techniques can provide noninvasive and detailed anatomic information that can be used in diagnosing the condition. Surgery is rarely necessary.  

For More Information and Resources Relating to SMA

National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD) -

Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH), Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. (NIH webpage accessed February 20, 2012.)

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