A comparison of thrombolytic therapy with operative revascularization in the initial treatment of acute peripheral arterial ischemia

J Vasc Surg. 1994 Jun;19(6):1021-30. doi: 10.1016/s0741-5214(94)70214-4.


Purpose: Despite the widespread use of intraarterial thrombolytic therapy for peripheral arterial occlusive disease, a randomized study comparing its efficacy with that of operative intervention has never been performed. This study evaluates the potential of intraarterial urokinase infusion to provide clinical benefits in patients with acute peripheral arterial occlusion.

Methods: Patients with limb-threatening ischemia of less than 7 days' duration were randomly assigned to intraarterial catheter-directed urokinase therapy or operative intervention. Anatomic lesions unmasked by thrombolysis were treated with balloon dilation or operation. The primary end points of the study were limb salvage and survival.

Results: A total of 57 patients were randomized to the thrombolytic therapy group, and 57 patients were randomized to the operative therapy group. Thrombolytic therapy resulted in dissolution of the occluding thrombus in 40 (70%) patients. Although the cumulative limb salvage rate was similar in the two treatment groups (82% at 12 months), the cumulative survival rate was significantly improved in patients randomized to the thrombolysis group (84% vs 58% at 12 months, p = 0.01). The mortality differences seemed to be primarily attributable to an increased frequency of in-hospital cardiopulmonary complications in the operative treatment group (49% vs 16%, p = 0.001). The benefits of thrombolysis were achieved without significant differences in the duration of hospitalization (median 11 days) and with only modest increases in hospital cost in the thrombolytic treatment arm (median $15,672 vs $12,253, p = 0.02).

Conclusions: Intraarterial thrombolytic therapy was associated with a reduction in the incidence of in-hospital cardiopulmonary complications and a corresponding increase in patient survival rates. These benefits were achieved without an appreciable increase in the duration of hospitalization and with only modest increases in hospital cost, suggesting that thrombolytic therapy may offer a safe and effective alternative to operation in the initial treatment of patients diagnosed with acute limb-threatening peripheral arterial occlusion.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Aged
  • Amputation, Surgical / statistics & numerical data
  • Arm / blood supply*
  • Aspirin / administration & dosage*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ischemia / drug therapy*
  • Ischemia / epidemiology
  • Ischemia / surgery*
  • Leg / blood supply*
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Statistics as Topic / methods
  • Thromboembolism / drug therapy
  • Thromboembolism / epidemiology
  • Thromboembolism / surgery
  • Thrombolytic Therapy* / methods
  • Thrombolytic Therapy* / statistics & numerical data
  • Urokinase-Type Plasminogen Activator / administration & dosage*
  • Vascular Surgical Procedures* / statistics & numerical data


  • Urokinase-Type Plasminogen Activator
  • Aspirin