UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Airway Management

Title: Lower Extremity Embolism

Posted: 5/16/2011 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 4/24/2024)
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Ever see that patient who shows up in the ED with blue painful toes? You look at the foot (or feet) and quickly determine that clot has embolized into the foot.

What is the differential diagnosis to consider in patients with evidence of embolic phenomenon in the feet (i.e. blue, painful toes)?

  • AAA-many times asymptomatic. Most AAAs have mural thrombi associated with them, and tiny clots can flip off and distally embolize. Common cause of the "blue toe" syndrome.
  • Atherosclerotic disease in the aorta, iliacs, femoral arteries. Plaques in these vessels are often chronic and don't always lead to acute occlusion.
  • Cardiac sources-atrial fibrillation, mural thrombi in patients with recent MI or in patients with dilated cardiomyopathy.

Things to consider:

  • Obviously, a vascular surgery consult
  • CT abdomen to r/o a AAA
  • Arterial doppler studies to assess for stenosis and arterial disease
  • ABIs

Clearly we can't do the complete workup of embolic foot lesions, and many if not most of these patients will need to be admitted to complete their workup.


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