Imagine waking up in the middle of the night from burning pain in legs. Even worse, it is aggravated at resting position and relieved only by sitting or standing. A dreadful dream isn’t it? This exactly describes the suffering of a patient with Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI). CLI is a chronic condition manifested by severe blockage in arteries of lower limbs. It occurs due to buildup of plaque (mostly fat, cholesterol and calcium) that narrows the arteries and limits oxygen supply. It is often referred to as end stage peripheral arterial disease with mortality rates of about20% within 6 months from diagnosis.
Critical Limb Ischemia results in extreme pain, non-healing sores and even gangrene in the feet due to poor blood circulation. To add to the misery, patients with CLI experience “rest pain” which is a sudden and persistent pain when the legs are at an elevated position and is accompanied by cramping. People with CLI often need to sleep in recliners to restore gravity-assisted blood flow as lying position triggers pain. Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI) requires immediate attention to restore blood perfusion and if left untreated, can aggressively progress to life threatening cardiovascular complications such as a heart attack, amputation of the leg or even death. About 50% of Critical Limb Ischemia patients succumb to cardiovascular diseases with 5 years of occurrence and the risk is increased further for diabetic patients. The physical discomfort can manifest into extreme mental distress for the patients causing a huge burden of the disease worldwide.
Who Is Susceptible?
The high risk groups for this condition are often patients with sedentary lifestyle, old age or medical conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes.
Is Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI) Curable?
The disorder has currently no cure and the current treatments rely on surgical intervention with bypass grafts for revascularization or narcotics that provide only temporary pain relief without improvement in overall limb functioning. Moreover, even the most advanced therapies fail to provide long term solution and may be even infeasible for end-stage complications. The priority of these treatments is saving the limb from amputation.
Stem Cells – A Promising Treatment For Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI)
A growing number of current studies have shown promising outcomes of regenerative medicine for CLI. Stem cells have emerged as not only a safe, less invasive alternative to existing treatment options but have substantially improved quality of life as reported through pain-free walking and significantly reduced amputation rates. Stem cells extracted from the bone marrow are administered at the site of tissue damage through intra-arterial or intra-muscular infusion.
These stem cells have the inherent potential to release therapeutic growth factors and proteins such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that promote angiogenesis or formation of new blood vessels and capillaries. Eventually, the new blood vessels replace the damaged ones and help in restoration of the blood flow to the limbs.
How Is Stem Cell Therapy Better Than Conventional Treatments?
Stem cell therapy provides permanent relief from pain and distress. Besides, being non-invasive and more effective, it is much better than the conventional treatments. Stem cell therapy is indeed the new hope for this life crippling condition.