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For further information, see CMDT Part 12-03: Occlusive Disease: Tibial & Pedal Arteries

Key Features

Essentials of Diagnosis

  • Severe pain of forefoot that is relieved by dependency

  • Pain or numbness of foot with walking

  • Ulceration or gangrene of foot or toes

  • Pallor when foot is elevated

General Considerations

  • Involves the tibial arteries of the lower leg and pedal arteries in the foot occur

  • Occurs primarily in patients with diabetes

  • There often is extensive calcification of the artery wall

  • First manifestation of leg ischemia is frequently an ischemic ulcer or foot gangrene rather than claudication

Clinical Findings

Symptoms and Signs

  • Foot ischemia without attendant claudication

  • Ischemic rest pain or ulcers

    • May be first sign of severe vascular insufficiency

    • Termed "chronic limb-threatening ischemia"

    • Associated with highest rate of amputation

  • Characteristics of rest pain

    • Severe, usually burning

    • Awakens patient

    • Confined to the dorsum of the foot at the area of the metatarsal heads

    • Relieved with dependency

  • Pedal pulses are absent

  • Dependent rubor with pallor on elevation

  • Skin of the foot is generally cool, atrophic, and hairless

Differential Diagnosis

  • Neuropathic dysesthesia


Imaging Studies

  • Digital subtraction angiography is the gold standard method to delineate the anatomy of the tibial-popliteal segment

  • Magnetic resonance angiography or CT angiography is less helpful for detection of lesions in this location due to the small vasculature and other technical issues related to image resolution

Diagnostic Procedures

  • Ankle-brachial index

    • May be quite low (in the range of 0.4 or lower)

    • May be falsely elevated when the arterial medial wall layer of the tibial arteries calcify (Mönckeberg medial calcific sclerosis) and are not compressible

  • Toe brachial index should be used if noncompressible ankle arteries are encountered




  • Bypass with vein to the distal tibial arteries or foot effective in

    • Treating rest pain

    • Healing gangrene

    • Healing ischemic ulcers of the foot

  • These bypasses have good patency rates (70% at 3 years)

  • In nearly all series, limb preservation rates are much higher than patency rates

  • Endovascular treatment with plain balloon angioplasty is effective for short segment lesions

  • The technical failure and reocclusion rates increase drastically with long segment disease in multiple tibial arteries

  • Drug-coated balloons or stents have not been successful in the tibial vessels


  • Patients with ischemic rest pain and ulcers are at high risk for amputation, particularly if revascularization cannot be done

  • Patients with diabetes and peripheral artery disease have a 4-fold risk of critical limb ischemia compared with nondiabetic patients with peripheral ...

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