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What is critical limb ischemia?

Critical limb ischemia (CLI) is when blockages of the arteries to the legs reduce blood flow to the point that there is not enough for tissue maintenance or healing. It is a serious form of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) which can also cause claudication. PAD is caused by atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of the arteries over time due to the buildup of fatty deposits called plaque.

CLI is a chronic condition that results in nonhealing wounds or ulcers or severe pain in the feet or toes even while resting. If left untreated, complications of CLI can lead to amputation of the affected limb. CLI can also result in infection of the soft tissues (cellulitis) and bone (osteomyelitis).

Symptoms of critical limb ischemia

The most prominent features of critical limb ischemia are ischemic rest pain — severe pain in the legs and feet while a person is not moving from poor blood supply, or non-healing sores on the feet or legs. Other symptoms include:

  • Pain or numbness in the feet
  • Shiny, smooth, dry skin of the legs or feet
  • Thickening of the toenails
  • Absent or diminished pulse in the legs or feet
  • Open sores, skin infections or ulcers that will not heal
  • Dry gangrene (dry, black skin) of the legs or feet

Critical Limb Ischemia is caused by Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD). Click to find out more about the diagnosis and treatment of PAD.

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