What is ischemia?

Ischemia is any reduction in blood flow resulting in decreased oxygen and nutrient supplies to a tissue. Ischemia may be reversible, in which case the affected tissue will recover if blood flow is restored, or it may be irreversible, resulting in tissue death. Ischemia can also be acute, due to a sudden reduction in blood flow, or chronic, due to slowly decreasing blood flow.

Ischemia can occur anywhere in the body. Heart attacks and strokes can both result from ischemia. Although less well known, ischemia can also affect the intestines, resulting in abdominal pain, bloody stool, and even intestinal rupture or gangrene. Peripheral ischemia can lead to loss of fingers or toes or the need for limb amputation.

Pain is a common symptom associated with ischemia, but does not always occur. Brain ischemia can cause cognitive, sensory or motor problems. Heart attacks and intestinal ischemia can cause nausea and vomiting. Peripheral ischemia can cause pallor, bluish discoloration, or darkening of the skin of the nose, ears, fingers, toes, or other surface areas.

Risk factors for ischemia include vascular diseases, such as arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), trauma, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy), tobacco use, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, stress, family history of ischemic diseases, and increasing age. Treatment of ischemia depends on the cause, but generally is aimed at restoring blood flow and reducing further tissue injury and death.

Because ischemia can lead to permanent injury, acute ischemia is always a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for chest pain or pressure; difficulty breathing; severe headache; abdominal pain; sudden difficulty with memory, thinking, talking, comprehension, writing or reading; confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment; numbness; paralysis or inability to move a body part; loss of vision or changes in vision; impaired balance and coordination; vomiting blood, rectal bleeding or bloody stool; profuse sweating; unusual anxiety; or a cold, blue or darkened extremity or patch of skin.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for ischemia but mild symptoms recur or are persistent, or if you start to develop mild shortness of breath, limitation of physical abilities, gradual memory loss, gradual skin changes, non-healing sores on the leg or foot, leg pain with walking or climbing stairs, abdominal discomfort while eating, or other symptoms that cause you concern.


What are the symptoms of ischemia?

Although pain is a common, ischemia may occur without any symptoms. Generally, symptoms depend on the location of the ischemia.

Common symptoms of ischemia of the heart

Symptoms of cardiac ischemia include:

  • Chest pain or pressure, which may radiate to the back, arm, shoulder, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Limitations of physical abilities Read more about ischemiasymptoms


What causes ischemia?

Ischemia is caused by a decrease in blood supply to a tissue or organ. Blood flow can be blocked by a clot, an embolus, or constriction of an artery. It can occur due to gradual thickening of the artery wall and narrowing of the artery, as in atherosclerosis. Trauma can also disrupt blood flow.

What are the risk factors for ischemia?

A number of factors increase the... Read more about ischemiacauses


How is ischemia treated?

Treatment of ischemia begins with seeking regular medical care throughout your life. Regular medical care allows a health care professional to provide early screening tests and to promptly evaluate symptoms and your risks for developing ischemia.

The goal of treating ischemia is to restore blood flow and prevent further damage. Surgery may be needed to remove dead tissue or repair... Read more about ischemiatreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation