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Amputation Overview

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Amputation is the surgical removal of all or part of a limb or extremity such as an arm, leg, foot, hand, toe, or finger.

About 1.8 million Americans are living with amputations. Amputation of the leg -- either above or below the knee -- is the most common amputation surgery.

Reasons for Amputation

There are many reasons an amputation may be necessary. The most common is poor circulation because of damage or narrowing of the arteries, called peripheral arterial disease. Without adequate blood flow, the body's cells cannot get oxygen and nutrients they need from the bloodstream. As a result, the affected tissue begins to die and infection may set in.

Other causes for amputation may include:

  • Severe injury (from a vehicle accident or serious burn, for example)
  • Cancerous tumor in the bone or muscle of the limb
  • Serious infection that does not get better with antibiotics or other treatment
  • Thickening of nerve tissue, called a neuroma
  • Frostbite

 

The Amputation Procedure

An amputation usually requires a hospital stay of five to 14 days or more, depending on the surgery and complications. The procedure itself may vary, depending on the limb or extremity being amputated and the patient's general health.

Amputation may be done under general anesthesia (meaning the patient is asleep) or with spinal anesthesia, which numbs the body from the waist down.

When performing an amputation, the surgeon removes all damaged tissue while leaving as much healthy tissue as possible.

A doctor may use several methods to determine where to cut and how much tissue to remove. These include:

  • Checking for a pulse close to where the surgeon is planning to cut
  • Comparing skin temperatures of the affected limb with those of a healthy limb
  • Looking for areas of reddened skin
  • Checking to see if the skin near the site where the surgeon is planning to cut is still sensitive to touch

During the procedure itself, the surgeon will:

  • Remove the diseased tissue and any crushed bone
  • Smooth uneven areas of bone
  • Seal off blood vessels and nerves
  • Cut and shape muscles so that the stump, or end of the limb, will be able to have an artificial limb (prosthesis) attached to it

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