Case Reports

50-year-old man • foot pain • “purple” toe • history of smoking • Dx?

Author and Disclosure Information

► Foot pain
► “Purple” toe
► History of smoking




A 50-year-old man presented to the primary care office for evaluation of foot pain. The day before, his left fifth toe had become exquisitely tender. He distinctly remembered that when he awoke, there was no discoloration or pain, but the toe later became “purple.” He denied any trauma. His medical record was notable for an extensive smoking history and a family history of early cardiovascular disease.

The patient appeared well but in obvious distress, secondary to the pain. His vital signs were unremarkable. His head, neck, lung, and cardiac exams revealed no abnormalities. Physical examination revealed a left fifth toe that was dusky purple and warm to the touch. Pain disproportionate to examination was noted on the anterior aspect of the toe, with limited range of motion. The patient walked with a compensated gait. Pulses were palpable on the posterior tibial (PT) and dorsalis pedis (DP) regions.


Based on our exam findings, we suspected a vascular injury and recommended an emergency consult by Podiatry, for which he was scheduled the following morning. The podiatric evaluation confirmed concern for a vascular injury and prompted a request for an emergent evaluation by Vascular Surgery.

The patient was seen emergently on Day 4 for a vascular surgery evaluation. Examination at that time showed a nearly absent femoral pulse on the left side and diminished and monophasic DP and PT pulses. His left foot demonstrated nonblanchable purpura that was clinically consistent with cholesterol embolization syndrome (CES).

We calculated the patient’s ankle-brachial index, and computed tomography angiography (CTA) was performed. While results were pending, the patient was started on aspirin 81 mg, clopidogrel 75 mg, and atorvastatin 40 mg, for a suspected slowly progressing iliac artery stenosis with a resulting acute atheroembolic event.

The CTA report showed a high-grade stenosis at the bifurcation of the left iliac artery, extending into both external and internal arteries. Of note, mild atherosclerotic disease without significant occlusion and runoff to the foot was observed into the tibial arteries. The stenosis extended into the profonda femoris artery, as well.


Atherosclerotic plaques are commonly encountered in patients with atherosclerotic disease; however, there are 2 varieties of emboli that arise from these plaques and one is often overlooked.1-4 The more common of these variants, thromboemboli, originates from an atherosclerotic plaque and can become lodged in a medium or large vessel as a single embolus.

Continue to: By contrast...


Next Article: