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Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2007 Jan;2(1):175-83. Epub 2006 Nov 2.

Arteriovenous access and hand pain: the distal hypoperfusion ischemic syndrome.

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Interventional Nephrology, Division of Nephrology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL 33136, USA.


An ischemic hand in a hemodialysis patient is a serious condition. It causes significant pain and discomfort but also can lead to tissue necrosis and the eventual loss of digits and even the entire hand. Although stealing of blood away from the high-resistance forearm arteries into the low-resistance arteriovenous access generally is assumed to be the cause, a great majority of both wrist and elbow accesses demonstrate retrograde flow without any evidence of hand pain or ischemia. Consequently, demonstration of retrograde flow alone does not predict or indicate the existence of distal ischemia. In this context, the term "arterial steal syndrome" is a misnomer to indicate the presence of peripheral ischemia. Recent studies have shown that, in many cases, arterial stenotic lesions cause distal hypoperfusion and result in hand ischemia. In other cases, distal arteriopathy as a result of generalized vascular calcification and diabetes is the culprit. Because any or a combination of the three mechanisms (retrograde flow, stenotic lesions, and distal arteriopathy) can lead to peripheral ischemia, distal hypoperfusion ischemic syndrome is a more appropriate term to denote hand ischemia. Treatment should start with a detailed history and physical examination to help rule out other (nonischemic) causes of hand pain. A complete arteriogram to evaluate the circulation of the extremity from the aortic arch to the palmar arch is essential. The choice of treatment modality and procedure to apply should be based on this evaluation. This report reviews the pathophysiology and presents current strategies to ameliorate distal hypoperfusion ischemic syndrome.

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