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Keywords:

  • arterial occlusive diseases;
  • critical limb ischaemia;
  • peripheral vascular diseases

Abstract

Critical limb ischaemia (CLI) is a severe form of peripheral arterial disease (PAD). CLI often causes disabling symptoms of pain and can lead to loss of the affected limb. It is also associated with increased risk of myocardial infarction, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease. The aims of management in patients with CLI are to relieve ischaemic pain, heal ulcers, prevent limb loss, improve function and quality of life and prolong survival. Here, current evidence regarding the medical management of CLI is reviewed. Cardiovascular risk factors should be assessed in all patients with CLI; smoking cessation and treatment of hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and diabetes all reduce the mortality rate in those with PAD. Antiplatelet agents (either aspirin or clopidogrel) are recommended to reduce both the incidence of cardiovascular events and risk of arterial occlusion. By contrast, routine use of anticoagulation (either warfarin or heparin) is not recommended. Treatment of the limbs themselves is often more challenging. Prostanoids may have some efficacy for treating rest pain and for ulcer healing, and iloprost shows favourable results in reducing the risk of major amputations, but long-term follow-up data regarding disease progression are lacking. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of naftidrofuryl or cilostazol, and pentoxifylline is not beneficial. Furthermore, there is no evidence of proven benefit of hyperbaric oxygen. A number of angiogenic growth factors have been studied in Phase I studies and randomized controlled trials (RCTs). They appear to be safe, but efficacy results have been mixed. Treatment with stem cells also shows some potential from early trials, but further larger RCTs are needed to demonstrate clear benefit. Thrombolysis may be an alternative for patients who develop acute limb ischaemia and are unsuitable for surgical intervention. However, newer endovascular techniques are likely to have a greater role in the future.