Peripheral Arterial Embolism: Prevalence, Outcome, and the Role of Echocardiography in Management

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Abstract

The aims of this study were to review the prevalence and outcome of all surgically treated upper and lower limb emboli presenting to one vascular unit in the last 3 years and to compare transthoracic with transesophageal echocardiography for defining the source of the embolus. All patients who underwent surgical embolectomy for acute limb ischemia from January 2001 to June 2004 were reviewed. Transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiography were carried out on a subset of consecutive unselected patients. Forty-two patients, with a mean age of 80 years, underwent surgical embolectomy from January 2001 to June 2004 (M/F 1:1.8): 27 for lower limb ischemia and 15 for upper limb ischemia. Two thirds of these patients were found to be in atrial fibrillation at presentation (n = 28), of whom less than a third were receiving anticoagulants or antiplatelet agents (n = 8). The mean hospital stay was 15 days with 36 patients (86%) being fully anticoagulated before discharge from hospital. The 30-day mortality rate was 11% (n = 3/27) with 5 patients requiring fasciotomies (12%) and 3 patients requiring an amputation of the lower limb (11%). Postoperatively, 34 patients (81%) had transthoracic echocardiography (TTE), which demonstrated a source or potential source for thrombus in 19 (56%). Fifteen patients (36%) had transesophageal echocardiography (TEE), which changed the subsequent management in 3 patients. All patients in whom TEE altered clinical management would have required this investigation if standard clinical guidelines were followed. TEE did not identify any additional patients with cardiac embolic sources that were not detected by TTE. Arterial limb emboli are still prevalent, but limb salvage and mortality rates appear to be improving. Despite clear guidelines on anticoagulation for patients in atrial fibrillation, many are not receiving appropriate treatment. Transthoracic echocardiography is a good screening tool for detecting a potential cardiac source for peripheral embolism, with transesophageal echocardiography being reserved for specific indications.

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