or is·chae·mi·a

[ ih-skee-mee-uh ]
/ ɪˈski mi ə /
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noun Pathology.
local deficiency of blood supply produced by vasoconstriction or local obstacles to the arterial flow.


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Origin of ischemia

1855–60; <Greek ísch(ein) to suppress, check + -emia


is·che·mic [ih-skee-mik, -skem-ik], /ɪˈski mɪk, -ˈskɛm ɪk/, adjective

Words nearby ischemia

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does ischemia mean?

Ischemia is a shortage of blood supply to a part of the body because of a blockage or because an artery (blood vessel) is too tight.

Proper blood flow is important for many things, including for circulating oxygen throughout the body, which means that ischemia is often a serious problem. The word is typically used in a medical context to refer to insufficient blood flow to major organs, which can cause significant health problems, such as a heart attack or stroke.

The adjective form ischemic is used when describing specific cases of blood shortage, such as ischemic heart disease or an ischemic stroke.

Why is ischemia important?

Even if you don’t know much about blood, you probably know that it is important and that something really bad would happen if your major organs didn’t get it. Doctors have known this for a long time and have a specific term for when blood is prevented from getting to where it needs to go. Medical experts have referred to this condition as ischemia since at least the 1800s. The word ischemia comes from the Greek ischein, meaning “to suppress,” and the suffix -emia, which is used in terms involving blood (such as anemia).

Ischemia is a blood supply shortage due to something preventing the right amount of blood from reaching its destination. This could happen for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is a buildup of cholesterol or fat in the arteries (the tubes in your body that take blood to where it needs to go). This causes the arteries to tighten or become blocked entirely (in the form of a blood clot).

Ischemia can potentially occur anywhere that blood flows in the body, but it is a serious issue regardless of where it happens. The reason ischemia is so serious is that blood transports important proteins and oxygen to tissues and organs. If the supply of these nutrients is cut off, then major organs will suffer from deficiencies, will be unable to perform cellular metabolism, and will eventually die. The symptoms of ischemia are often related to the organ or area that is short of blood. Cerebral (brain) ischemia can cause blindness or unconsciousness. Symptoms of myocardial (heart) ischemia include chest pain, nausea, and fatigue.

The health problems that are caused by ischemia can range from incredible pain in the limbs to life-threatening medical emergencies such as heart attacks or strokes. Ischemia is not easily treated and often requires major surgery or a major change in lifestyle in order to resolve current problems or prevent any future health issues.

Did you know ... ?

While ischemia often has symptoms such as pain or nausea, sometimes a person can have ischemia and not even notice. This is known as silent ischemia and it is especially common in people with diabetes.

What are real-life examples of ischemia?

This video shows an internal simulation of how brain ischemia can lead to a stroke:

Ischemia is a formal medical term that’s typically used in the discussion and diagnosis of serious health issues.


What other words are related to ischemia?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Ischemia involves an oversupply of blood to organ or tissue.