Ischemia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Ischemia is a condition of the body in which the blood supply is interrupted between the heart and any of the organs of the human body. Since blood is the primary carrier of oxygen from the lungs to the various body organs, and each organ needs oxygen for optimal or complete functioning, it may become the cause of a critical condition at times. For instance, if the heart of an ischemia patient stops working due to the absence of oxygen, it would cause heart failure, which is a fatal condition.

Ischemia could be partial or complete depending on various situations. A partial ischemia means that a lesser amount of oxygen is reaching in the affected part of the body. Whereas, in the full or complete ischemia, the blood and oxygen are completely blocked from reaching a body organ. Ischemia can take place in various parts of the body such as the heart, brain, intestines, lungs, limbs and more.

Symptoms of Ischemia

The patients of ischemia may or may not see a symptom of this disease. If there are no symptoms, the condition is said to be silent ischemia. However, if there are any symptoms, those may be varied based on the occurrence of ischemia in various parts of the body. Those all are mentioned below.

1- Symptoms of Ischemia in Heart

The various symptoms of ischemia in the heart may include:

  • Moderate to severe chest pain
  • Faster heartbeat
  • Pain in jaws, neck, shoulders, or arms
  • Breath shortness while exercising, walking briskly, climbing stairs, or lifting weight for some time
  • Sweating up unexpectedly
  • Upset stomach even on normal diets
  • Sudden cardiac attack
  • Feeling of fatigue

2- Symptoms of Ischemia in Brain

The various symptoms of ischemia in the brain may include:

  • Normal to severe headaches and/or dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty in moving body parts, like lifting arm, face, and legs
  • Unclear or garbled speech
  • Stroke
  • Difficulty in understanding the words or sentences spoken by correspondents

3- Symptoms of Ischemia in Legs

The various symptoms of ischemia in the legs may include:

  • Feeling of weakness in the legs while walking or standing at stretch
  • Cold sensations in the feet
  • Minute to severe pain in the legs
  • The skin of legs or feet turning shiny or smooth
  • Sores that would not heal easily

4- Symptoms of Ischemia in Intestines

The various symptoms of Ischemia in the intestines may include:

  • Pain in stomach or belly
  • Stomach Bloating
  • Bleeding with bowel movements
  • Diarrhoea
  • Lesser control on bowel movements
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Upset stomach

5- Symptoms of Ischemia in Liver

The various symptoms of ischemia in the liver may include:

  • Frequent stomach infections
  • Feel of dehydration even on drinking ample amount of water
  • Heart failure
  • Abnormal heartbeats (either slower or faster)

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Causes of Ischemia

Normally, the inner layer of arteries is soft, smooth, and regular. The primary cause of ischemia is considered to be atherosclerosis, which is the condition of narrowing or hardening of the arteries carrying blood to various organs of the body. When plaque is collected in the arteries, their inner layer turns bumpy and narrow.

By this, the mobility of blood flow comes down in the arteries. Plaque is a gummy gel, which is constituted mainly of fat. Plaque is developed slowly into the blood and collected in the arteries, so it is difficult to identify it at its early stage of development. Over the time it accumulates in the arteries, it makes those hard and narrow. Due to this, the flow of blood gets lesser space than expected due to the bottleneck.

The ultimate result of this process is ischemia when the flow of blood almost ceases. Another probable reason for ischemia could be the clotting of blood in the arteries that could cause an unexpected stoppage in the flow of blood to the various body parts or organs. This, in turn, takes the form of ischemia.

It is noticed that ischemia occurs more in the people of middle to older years of age. The patients with high blood pressure are also at high risk of catching this disease. Certain medicines like the birth control pills, migraine medication, and anti-allergic medicines, also tend to contract or expand the blood vessels including arteries. At times, physical exertion with insufficient diet also causes ischemia.

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Prevention of Ischemia

If you follow a healthy and disciplined lifestyle, you could be able to limit the chances of getting ischemia. Some of the pointers to be followed are mentioned below:

  • Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and organic food items
  • Spare out time for exercise every day
  • Avoid stress through various methods like deep breathing, yoga and meditation
  • Quit drinking
  • Quit smoking, as it can damage the inner surface of arteries, allowing to collect the cholesterol in that part. Smoking also increases the chances of clots in the blood.
  • Avoid eating junk food items, as these may increase the risk of triggering the cholesterol level in the blood
  • Be attentive to any of the symptoms mentioned above
  • Take most care of your health especially if you are a patient of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and more
  • Undergo regular health check-ups for the identification of abnormalities and catch the problems at an early stage before the occurrence of symptoms
  • Consult the findings of health check-ups with the physician and follow the recommendations very carefully
  • Avoid unnecessary medication for every minute problem
  • Do not hesitate in consuming antioxidants and health supplements if your physician recommends
  • Consumption of illegal substances like cocaine is also associated with ischemia of intestines

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How Ischemia is diagnosed?

Whenever you would see any of the symptoms mentioned above under the ‘Symptoms’ section, the very first step is to consult your physician. There are multiple methods through which different types of ischemia are diagnosed. Based on the nature and frequency of your symptoms and your past medical history, the doctor would examine and recommend one or more of the following examination for the diagnosis:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): It is an activity carried out using an electrical device that records the operational condition of the heart through some electrodes placed on the skin of the patient. If there are some abnormalities in the functioning of the heart, it may indicate ischemia. The doctor may recommend some further tests based on the ECG report.
  • Echocardiogram: It is an extensive test for the assessment of the heart’s performance in which the sound waves are passed to the heart using a device placed above the chest of the patient. This generates video images of the heart to identify if some area of the heart is damaged and the heart is not pumping the blood as expected.
  • Nuclear Scan: With this test, some quantity of radioactive substance is injected into the bloodstream. Post then, the patient is instructed to do some exercise, which would increase the movement of blood in the heart and lungs. A tracking device monitors the flow of the radioactive substance, which also moves along with the blood. This way, the problems related to the irregular flow of blood are identified.
  • Angiography: It is the process of injecting a dye into the bloodstream of the patient’s heart. Post-injection of the dye, various pictures (known as angiograms) are captured using an X-ray machine that gives a clear picture of obstacles in the primary arteries connecting the blood vessels with the heart.
  • CT Scan: It is the most important test for the determination of coronary artery calcification, which is an indication of coronary atherosclerosis. This test can also use to detect the abnormalities of arteries.
  • Stress Test: It is the test of monitoring the rhythm of the heart, flow of breath and blood pressure while brisk walking or bike riding. With the intense activity like brisk walking, the heart starts pumping faster than usual, it does. The stress test aims to detect problems or misfunctioning of the heart in such conditions.

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Treatment of Ischemia

Post-diagnosis and confirmation of ischemia, the physician would recommend the correct treatment methodology to be followed. Since ischemia is the result of lack of blood flow into the various organs or parts of the body, its treatment is based on streamlining the flow of blood in the arteries. Depending on the severity and symptoms on the patient, the doctor may recommend one of the following treatment methodologies:

  • Bypass Surgery: If the blockage of the artery is very high, which may impose the life risk to the patient, the doctor would recommend a bypass surgery for providing an alternate way for the passage of blood.
  • Placing a Stent or Angioplasty: A stent is a long and thin artificial catheter tube, which is inserted in the partially narrowed or blocked part of the patient’s arteries. Post then, a thin wire along with a tiny balloon is passed through the narrowed area of the blocked artery and is overblown for the widening of the artery’s size.
  • Enhanced External Counterpulsation: This treatment methodology is recommended by the doctors when other treatment methodologies do not work out. Within this method, restraints are draped around the legs of the patient and are first gradually inflated with air, and then deflated. With the repetition of this process, the imposed pressure on the blood vessels would improve the flow of blood to the various organs of the body from the heart.
  • Medication: If the blockage is not very high, the physician would prescribe certain medicines, which would tend to reduce the blockage or clot, and enhances the blood flow. Some of such medicines are discussed below:
  • Aspirin: It is one of the oldest and commonly used medicines, which thins the blood and reduces the chances of blood clotting. This, in turn, prevents blockage of arteries in the body. Note that any individual must never start consuming this medicine by own, as it may not suit those with a bleeding disorder. The doctor would assess the various parameters and health conditions of the patients before prescribing them this medicine. Also note that those patients should not take aspirin, who are already consuming some other blood thinning medicine.
  • Nitrate: It is that medicine that opens up the arteries of the patients on a temporary basis. This results in improved blood flow in the arteries to the various organs of the body and avoids the chances of their hardening.
  • Beta Blocker: It is the medicine, which relaxes the heart muscles of the patient, slows down the heartbeat, decreases the blood pressure to a significant level, and in turn ensures the optimal blood flow.
  • Calcium Channel Blocker: This medicine relaxes and widens the arteries, veins and blood vessels, and increases the flow of blood in the patient’s heart. Additionally, this medicine brings down the pulse of the patient and reduces the load on the patient’s heart.
  • Cholesterol-lowering Medications: As already mentioned, high cholesterol in the blood vessels and arteries is also a big cause of ischemia. So, the patients who have higher levels of cholesterol in their blood are recommended by the doctors to consume medicines that tend to reduce the cholesterol from their blood.
  • Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitor: This is the medicine, which helps in relaxing the blood vessels and lowering the blood pressure of the patient. Generally, doctors recommend these medicines to those patients who have either diabetes or high blood pressure along with myocardial ischemia.
  • Ranolazine or Ranexa: This medicine relaxes the arteries for easing angina. The doctors may prescribe this medicine along with other medicines like a beta blocker, calcium channel blocker or nitrate.

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Complications of Ischemia

Following are the various critical complications associated with ischemia:

  • Severe pelvic pain
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Premature ovarian failure or other fertility disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heart rhythm

Myths of Ischemia

Myth #1: The only cause of ischemia is high cholesterol levels in the blood

High cholesterol levels in the blood are one of the reasons due to which you would suffer from ischemia. However, there are multiple other reasons because of which this problem can occur.

Myth #2: Ischemia will always be triggered with some symptoms

It is not necessary that ischemia will always show its symptoms. It could affect the patients in a silent mode as well.

Myth #3: A bypass surgery is the permanent treatment of ischemia

Ischemia could occur even after undergoing a bypass surgery.

Myth #4: Ischemia in any part of our body produces similar symptoms

Ischemia in various body parts of organs may cause different symptoms.

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Last updated on : 19-12-2018

Disclaimer : Docprime doesn’t endorse or take any guarantee of the accuracy or completeness of information provided under this article and these are the views strictly of the writer. Docprime shall not be held responsible for any aspect of healthcare services administered with the information provided on this article.

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