Acute arterial ischemia


  • Sudden decrease in perfusion that may result in irreversible limb loss.
  • Etology may be thrombotic or embolic
    • Thrombosis occurs in vessels with existing atherosclerosis (generally have formed collateral circulation)
    • Embolism occurs in vessels usually free of atherosclerosis - generally do not have existing collateral circulation → results in higher level of limb ischemia than thombosis.

Clinical Features

6 Ps

  • Paraesthesia - With weakness are early findings and preservation of light touch is good guide to viability
  • Paralysis
  • Pain - claudication or pain with leg elevation
  • Pallor
  • Pulselessness - helpful only if accompanies by skin changes
  • Poikilothermia

Differential Diagnosis

Blue Digit

Foot diagnoses




Ankle-brachial index (ABI)

  • How to measure:
    1. Position patient supine
    2. Measure SBP from both brachial arteries using cuff and handheld Doppler over the AC fossa
    3. Measure SBP from both DP and PT arteries using cuff placed just proximal to the malleoli with Doppler over artery (5-8% of normal patients have absent DP pulse)
    4. Calculate ABI on each leg by taking the highest ankle SBP (between DP and PT) on that leg divided by the highest brachial SBP and record to 2 decimal places
ABI Meaning
<0.40 Severe occlusion
0.40–0.69 Moderate occlusion
0.70–0.90 Mild occlusion
0.91–1.30 Normal
>1.30 Poorly compressible/calcified vessels


  • Formal angiogram considered gold standard
  • CTA
  • US

Thrombosis vs Embolus

Key features Thrombosis Embolus
Source Usually unknown Heart (A-fib most common)
History PAD, claudication Less likely to have PAD and claudication
Physical exam Absent pulse. Consistent with PAD: hair loss, thickened nails etc Absent pulse. Usually no evidence of PAD
Degree of arthersclerosis Diffuse Minimal
Collaterals Well-developed Few


  • Unfractionated heparin
    • 80 units/kg bolus → 18units/kg/hr gtt
  • ASA
  • Dependent positioning
  • Pain control
  • Vascular surgery consultation (clot retrieval, balloon angioplasty, intraarterial tPA, stenting, bypass)
    • Management of embolism = embolectomy (limb salvage decreases after 4-6 hours)
    • Management of thrombus = intra-arterial thrombolysis (if non-limb threatening), thrombectomy (if limb-threatening ischmia)
  • Interventional radiology if delay in vascular surgery intervention or if unavailable


  • Admit

See Also

External Links



Ross Donaldson