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acute limb ischaemia


  • acute limb ischaemia is a time critical condition which requires rapid recognition, assessment and management to save the limb and perhaps the patient's life.
  • it is not an uncommon cause of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and in this scenario is often over-looked with dire consequences
  • it is characterized by a rapid decrease in limb perfusion which usually produces new or worsening symptoms or signs, and often threatens limb viability.


usually acute presentation within hours

  • arterial embolism (eg. from AF or abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)), trauma, or from peripheral aneurysms causing embolism or thrombosis in patients lacking collateral circulation

usually delayed presentation over days

clinical assessment



remember the 5 P's

  • Pain - time of onset, variation over time, location, intensity
  • Pulselessness - absence of pedal pulses suggests acute limb ischaemia which can be confirmed on Doppler USS, and measurement of ankle-brachial index (ABI)
  • Pallor
  • Paraesthesiae - if more than just in the toes, suggests limb viability is becoming critical
  • Paralysis - if present suggests probable non-viable limb

assessing severity

  • category I: no sensory loss and no muscle weakness
  • category IIa: paraesthesiae confined to toes or not present suggests limb is viable and potentially salvageable
  • category IIb: more extensive paraethesiae with rest pain and only mild-moderate muscle weakness, but perhaps tender muscles and pain on passive movement suggests advanced acute limb ischaemia which may still be salvageable with immediate revascularisation
  • category III: profound anaesthesia and paralysis indicate major tissue loss and nerve damage which is probably irreversible and require amputation

is it really arterial ischaemia?

conditions mimicking acute limb ischaemia
other causes of arterial ischaemia

initial Mx in ED

  • iv access, FBE, U&E, glucose, clotting profile, CK
  • ECG
  • early vascular surgical consult is imperative
  • early anticoagulation with iv heparin is usually indicated to prevent extension of thrombosis
  • rapid confirmation with Doppler USS and/or CT angiography may be indicated
  • category I and IIa patients can usually have angiography to decide further Mx such as:
    • catheter directed thrombolytic Rx
    • percutaneous aspiration thrombectomy (PAT) +/- thrombolysis
    • percutaneous mechanical thrombectomy (PMT) +/- thrombolysis
  • category IIb patients will usually need immediate assessment for revascularisation procedure
    • 10–15% of patients’ limbs thought to be salvageable ultimately require major amputation
  • category III patients will generally require amputation or palliation depending upon pre-existing co-morbidities and likelihood of survival from surgery if presentation is severely delayed.


limb_ischaemia.txt · Last modified: 2012/04/25 13:49 by gary1