Amputation is surgery to remove all or part of an arm or leg. It may be done to treat injury, disease, or infection. It may also be done to remove tumors from bones and muscles.
The most common reason for amputation is poor blood flow. This happens when arteries become narrowed or damaged. When this occurs in the arms or legs, it’s called peripheral arterial disease or PAD. PAD most often occurs between the ages of 50 to 75. It usually results from diabetes or atherosclerosis. This is a buildup of plaque inside the artery wall. Poor blood flow causes infection and death of tissue.
Other reasons you might need this procedure include injury, such as severe burn or accident, or cancer in a limb.
Amputation may also be done for serious infections that do not respond to antibiotics or other treatment. In some cases, it may be done due to frostbite or neuroma. This is a thickening of nerve tissue.
There may be other reasons you may need an amputation.
People with diabetes, heart disease, or infection have a higher risk of complications from amputation than others. Above-knee amputations are riskier than below-knee amputations.
Other complications may include:
You may have other risks, based on your condition. Talk with your surgeon about any concerns you have before your amputation.
Ask your surgeon to tell you what you should do before your amputation. Below is a list of common steps that you may be asked to do:
Talk with your surgeon about what to expect during your procedure. An amputation requires a stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on the type of amputation, your condition, and your surgeon’s practices.
An amputation may be done while you are asleep under general anesthesia, or while you are awake under spinal anesthesia. If spinal anesthesia is used, you will have no feeling from your waist down. Your surgeon will discuss this with you in advance.
Generally, an amputation follows this process:
After the procedure, you will be taken to the recovery room. Your recovery will vary depending on the type of procedure done and anesthesia used. The circulation and sensation of the affected extremity will be monitored. Once your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are stable and you are alert, you will be taken to your hospital room.
You will get pain medicines and antibiotics as needed. The dressing will be changed and watched closely.
You will start physical therapy soon after your surgery. Rehabilitation is designed for your specific needs. It may include gentle stretching, special exercises, and help getting in and out of bed or a wheelchair. If you had a leg amputation, you will learn how to bear weight on your remaining limb.
There are specialists who make and fit prosthetic devices. They will visit you soon after surgery and will instruct you how to use the prosthesis. You may begin to practice with your artificial limb as early as 10 to 14 days after your surgery, depending on your comfort and wound healing process.
After amputation, you will stay in the hospital for several days. You will get instructions as to how to change your dressing. You will be discharged home when the healing process is going well and you are able to take care of yourself with assistance.
After surgery, you may have emotional concerns. You may have grief over the lost limb or a physical condition known as phantom pain. This is a sense of feeling pain or sensation in your amputated limb. If this is the case, you may receive medicines or other types of nonsurgical approaches.
Once you are home, it is important to follow the instructions given to you by your surgeon. You will have detailed instructions on how to care for the surgical site, dressing changes, bathing, activity level, and physical therapy.
Take a pain reliever for soreness as advised by your surgeon. Aspirin or certain other pain medicines may increase the chance of bleeding. Be sure to take only recommended medicines.
Tell your surgeon if you have any of the following:
You may resume your normal diet unless your surgeon tells you differently. Your surgeon may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.
There have been many advances over the past several years in the surgery, rehabilitation, and prosthetic design. Proper healing and fitting of the artificial limb help to reduce the risk of long-term complications. An amputation requires adapting many parts of your life. Physical therapy can help.
If the amputation was the result of PAD, continued steps will need to be taken to prevent the condition so that it does not affect other parts of your body.
You may be advised to adopt the following lifestyle changes to help stop the progression of PAD. This includes:
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know: