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Arterial embolism

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may begin quickly or slowly depending on the size of the embolus and how much it blocks the blood flow.

    Symptoms of an arterial embolism in the arms or legs may include:

    • Cold arm or leg
    • Decreased or no pulse in an arm or leg
    • Fingers or hands feel cool
    • Lack of movement in the arm or leg
    • Muscle pain in the affected area
    • Muscle spasm in the affected area
    • Numbness and tingling in the arm or leg
    • Pale color of the arm or leg (pallor)
    • Weakness of an arm or leg

    Later symptoms:

    • Blisters of the skin fed by the affected artery
    • Shedding (sloughing) of skin
    • Skin erosion (ulcer)
    • Tissue death (necrosis; skin is dark and damaged)

    Symptoms of a clot in an organ vary with the organ involved but may include:

    • Pain in the part of the body that is involved
    • Temporarily decreased organ function

    Signs and tests

    The health care provider may find decreased or no pulse, and decreased or no blood pressure in the arm or leg. There may be signs of tissue death or gangrene.

    Tests to diagnose arterial embolism or reveal the source of emboli may include:

    • Angiography of the affected extremity or organ
    • Doppler ultrasound exam of an extremity
    • Duplex Doppler ultrasound exam of extremity
    • Echocardiogram
    • MRI
    • Myocardial contrast echocardiography (MCE)
    • Plethysmography
    • Transcranial Doppler exam of arteries to the brain
    • Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE)

    This disease may also affect the results of the following tests:

    • Euglobulin lysis time (ELT)
    • Factor VIII assay
    • Isotope study of the affected organ
    • Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) activity
    • Platelet aggregation test
    • Tissue-type plasminogen activator (t-PA) levels