What is Ischemic Foot?

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The human body is an amazing and complex system of interdependent structures, organs and tissues that work together day in and day out to function in ways we often take for granted. The cardiovascular system is responsible for pulling oxygen from the lungs and transporting it through the blood vessels and into capillaries that provide oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells.

When there is blockage in the arteries, it can result in a serious medical condition called Ischemia (is-KE’me-ah). This condition is usually caused by arterial plaque, blood clots or even injury to arteries, and can affect major organs like the brain or heart. Ischemic foot refers to insufficient blood supply to the foot, which limits oxygen and nutrient availability and leads to loss of normal function.

Causes of and Risk Factors of Ischemic Foot

The most frequent cause of Ischemic foot is atherosclerosis – a collection of plaque in the arteries. Arterial plaque is a hard and sticky substance mostly made of fat, cholesterol and calcium. The slow rate at which it builds up makes early detection difficult, and in developed countries, it can often start in early childhood. Over time atherosclerosis hardens and narrows the arteries, reducing blood flow through the constricted vessels.

Other causes of the ischemic foot include blood clots in the artery, injury to the artery and arterial spasms.

Risk factors include smoking, old age, high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), family history cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Symptoms of Ischemic Foot

Ischemic symptoms depend on how quickly the blood flow is interrupted and where the blockage occurs. Symptoms in early stages include muscles cramps after activity, cold feet, and toe discolorations (turning purple or reddish). Symptoms at advanced stages include sores that fails to heal, burning pain in the ball of the foot and toes. This pain is called “resting pain” because it is present even when you are resting or asleep. In left untreated, sores can lead to gangrene and necrosis – premature cell death in organs and tissue.

Treatment for Ischemic Foot

In many cases of ischemia, controlling the risk factors, especially smoking, is very important. It can be the difference between life and death. The primary focus of treatment is to consistently increase blood supply to the affected body part(s), especially in the early stages. Adequate blood flow will protect the internal tissues, and also maintain healthy skin, which aids in preventing the formation of sores.

Those with ischemia should avoid walking barefoot to lower their risk of accidental injury. Socks and comfortable shoes should be work at all times, to reduce the likelihood of skin ulcers and lesions from friction and irritation.

Certain prescription medications can promote healthier circulation. There are also medications that help prevent the progression of the disease and lower the effect of other risk factors. Medications may also be recommended to fight infection and reduce pain.

In worse scenarios, or if there is a risk of tissue death (gangrene), surgery might be recommended in an effort to avoid amputation. Surgery is usually performed to remove the blockage or bypass the affected artery.

Severe blockages in the arteries that led to ischemic foot may be treated via a surgical procedure known as endarterectomy. The procedure removes clusters of plaque from the affected artery.

At Houston Foot and Ankle Care, we are experienced in treating individuals with poor blood circulation due to ischemia, diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, and other underlying medical conditions. We focus treatment on protecting the foot and ankle to maintain mobility, promote tissue health and avoid serious complications. If you have experienced foot pain or discomfort, call us at (713) 541-3199 to schedule an appointment with Houston podiatristGabriel Maislos, DPM, FACFAS. Foot pain is not normal. We accept most major forms of medical insurance.

Call (713) 541-3199 if you experience:

  • cold feet or discolored toes
  • cramping after walking, or pain during rest
  • slow-healing foot sores



Houston Foot and Ankle