Critical limb ischemia: medical and surgical management

David Paul Slovut and Timothy M Sullivan

Chronic critical limb ischemia (CLI), defined as > 2 weeks of rest pain, ulcers, or tissue loss attributed to arterial occlusive disease, is associated with great loss of both limb and life. Therapeutic goals in treating patients with CLI include reducing cardiovascular risk factors, relieving ischemic pain, healing ulcers, preventing major amputation, improving quality of life and increasing survival. These aims may be achieved through medical therapy, revascularization, or amputation. Medical therapy includes administration of analgesics, local wound care and pressure relief, treatment of infection, and aggressive therapy to modify atherosclerotic risk factors. For patients who are not candidates for revascularization, and who are unwilling or unable to undergo amputation, treatments such as intermittent pneumatic compression or spinal cord stimulation may offer symptom relief and promote wound healing. Revascularization offers the best option for limb salvage. The decision to perform surgery, endovascular therapy, or a combination of the two modalities (‘hybrid’ therapy) must be individualized. Patients who are relatively fit and able to withstand the rigors of an open procedure may benefit from the long-term durability of surgical repair. In contrast, frail patients with a limited life expectancy may experience better outcomes with endovascular reconstruction. Hybrid therapy is an attractive option for patients with limited autologous conduit, as it permits complete revascularization with a less extensive procedure, shorter duration of operation, and decreased risk of peri-operative complications. Amputation should be considered for patients who are non-ambulatory, demented, or unfit to undergo revascularization.

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