What Is an Ischemic Injury?

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  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 16 May 2018
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When there is an obstruction of blood flow inside the body caused by any kind of physical damage or injury it is called ischemia or an ischemic injury. Commonly this occurs when the blood vessels are involved either by a constrictive force caused by the tissues surrounding the vessels to push down on the vessels, called vasoconstriction, or by the blood vessel itself sustaining some sort of damage. A blood vessel can slow down or stop the flow of blood by a collapse of the walls impeding the movement of blood, or by a cut or severing of the thin membranous walls that keeps the blood contained and on course to various parts of the body. An ischemic injury may also occur of there is a blockage inside of the blood vessel as can be experienced by a blood clot.

The clotting of blood is the body’s normal reaction to halt or slow the loss of blood. However, when there is a blood clot inside a blood vessel which causes ischemia, it is called a thrombus. If this type of clot becomes dislodged it is known as an embolus. This free moving clot, also called a thromboembolism, can travel to another part of the body and cause an obstruction there.


Since blood carries oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body, in severe cases, this form of ischemic injury can cause problems such as hypoxia or a decrease in oxygen in the area, or anoxia which is a complete deprivation of oxygen to the area serviced by the involved blood vessels. If this obstruction is not cleared it can cause an infarct. An infarct is when the tissues begin to die or become necrotic.

Some medical conditions which may cause an ischemic injury can include heart disease, cerebrovascular incidents or strokes, head injuries and heart attacks. Symptoms of an ischemic injury vary on the location of the damaged blood vessels. For example, an obstruction to an arm or leg can cause swelling and tenderness. The limb may also become red due to a pooling of blood, or blue due to a lack of blood.

If this impediment occurs in the brain, difficulties may be experienced in memory, especially short term memory, and problems with complex tasks. Motor skills may also be affected. If the ischemic injury is not corrected, fainting, seizures, coma, and even death can result.

The treatment of an ischemic injury involves correcting the problem and restoring normal blood flow. This can occur through a surgical procedure to mend the damaged blood vessel or removing the clot. In some instances, a treatment protocol of several months on blood-thinning medications can dissolve the clot impeding blood flow and restore normal blood movement.



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