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Acute limb ischaemia: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About acute limb ischaemia

Acute limb ischaemia is an emergency condition characterised by the sudden loss of blood flow to the limbs. This loss of blood flow, occurs in the blood supplying vessel called the artery and can be either partial or complete.

Acute limb ischaemia: Incidence, age and sex

Acute limb ischaemia can affect a person at any age but adults are more frequently affected. There seems to be a gender bias since it is more common in men than women.

Signs and symptoms of acute limb ischaemia: Diagnosis

Acute limb ischaemia has a sudden onset of clinical presentation, which may vary from mild to severe depending upon the location of occlusion of the artery. Certain specific locations where the collateral blood supply is present may have milder and slower onset of symptoms on artery blockage due to compensatory blood flow by the collaterals. The most prominent clinical features include pain in the affected limb and loss of any sensation. There may also be an absence of pulse in the affected limb. In severe cases, this loss of blood flow may cause paralysis and tissue destruction.

Causes and prevention of acute limb ischaemia

Acute limb ischaemia is the result of blockage of an artery by a blood clot. This blood clot is called ‘thrombus’ if it remains stationary and ‘embolus’ if it moves along the course of the artery. The following are some of the factors which causes blood clots, thereby increasing the risk of acute limb ischaemia:

  • History of heart attack
  • Disorder of heart rate termed cardiac arrhythmias
  • Rheumatic heart disease
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Certain blood disorders in which clotting time is impaired
  • Blunt trauma affecting the blood vessels

Acute limb ischaemia: Complications

Acute limb ischaemia may result in debilitating complications involving the affected limb if it is not treated in time. Such complications include extensive tissue destruction and infection. If untreated, this might culminate in gangrene of the affected limb which might necessitate amputation.

Acute limb ischaemia: Treatment

Acute limb ischaemia is a medical emergency and should be treated urgently. The management includes immediate resolution of blood clot by medications. In certain patients surgical intervention, which helps in the breakdown of blood clots, may be needed. Analgesics are recommended for unbearable pain. It is also essential to diagnose and manage the underlying causes of the formation of such blood clots.