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What Is Ischemic Pain?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2016
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Ischemic pain is pain caused by decreased blood supply to a region like the leg or heart. The affected tissue does not get enough oxygen and nutrients, and the pain is a warning sign that cells are in trouble. If the ischemia persists, the patient can develop widespread cell death and may experience complications like ulcerations along a leg with inadequate blood supply. Treatments are available for the management of ischemic pain.

The sensations associated with ischemic pain can vary, but they tend to be very intense. The pain may be sharp, stabbing, or biting. Patients usually feel a sense of tightness and burning. They may attempt to move, only to find that the pain becomes more intense, and the muscles can spasm. Some ischemic pain can become unbearable for the patient and may be recurrent, leading to chronic pain and irritation.

One common example of ischemic pain is angina, a condition where diseased coronary arteries do not supply enough blood to the heart, and the patient periodically experiences tightness and burning. Some patients only develop angina during vigorous exercise, while others can experience it at any time. Medications are available to treat angina, both during attacks and in the long-term prevention of future episodes. Patients may need to undergo some testing to confirm that the cause of the pain really is angina.

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Another frequent location for ischemic pain is in the leg. This can be common in patients with circulatory disease. They will notice burning sensations and intense pain. Over time, gangrene can develop as cells die, skin sloughs off, and inflammation sets in. This may lead to the need for an amputation to remove the dead and diseased tissue. Especially when the circulatory disease includes neurological impairments, the patient may not be aware of the extent and severity of the pain and injuries to the leg, and thus does not immediately realize that there is an ischemic injury.

Treatments for ischemic pain can include medications to improve circulation, along with lifestyle changes like exercise to work the involved area of the body, or an improved diet. Surgery may be necessary to treat vascular disorders. Often the patient has an underlying issue like diabetes that contributes to the ischemic pain, and controlling that medical problem may resolve the pain as well. Monitoring for signs of recurrence or evidence that the treatment is not effective will help a doctor intervene quickly if the patient does not respond well to treatment.

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