There are varying causes of amputations and several reasons one might need one. Unless it’s an emergency, amputations are rarely a quick process. Oftentimes, patients will need to meet with their doctors for tests and evaluations to determine what type of amputation is right for them.
Horizon Orthotic & Prosthetic Experience in Kansas City specializes in helping patients with amputations regain their quality of life, with custom-designed prosthetic and orthotic devices. Though we don’t perform the amputation, we are very familiar with the process and can give you an idea of what to expect.
Today, we’ll be going over some of the most common reasons a person might need an amputation. Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list and each person’s situation is unique. Also, it’s important to note that only a qualified medical professional can truly determine whether amputation is the best option for you.
With that being said, below are some of the most frequent reasons for amputation and possible methods of prevention.
Accounting for 82 percent of amputations, vascular diseases are the most common cause of amputation by far. Vascular diseases, in particular peripheral artery disease (PAD), cause poor blood circulation within the limb and occur when arteries are damaged or narrowed.
PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease (PVD), usually happens when there’s a plaque buildup inside the walls of an artery. That buildup blocks the flow of blood, nutrients, and oxygen to the limbs, which leads to your blood vessels becoming damaged and your tissue dying. PAD can also occur because of diabetes, injuries, and infections, and is most common in people between the ages of 50 and 75.
The best way to prevent PAD is through lifestyle changes and prevention. A healthy diet with regular exercise, combined with limited alcohol intake and no smoking, are the best preventative measures you can take to avoid PVD and other vascular issues.
A traumatic injury can also be a cause of amputation. A severe injury will require amputation when the injured limb sustains blood vessel damage past the point in which medical science can save it. These amputations aren’t as common as those from non-traumatic injuries, but the mortality rate is much higher for those who require amputation because of severe injury.
There are several ways in which a person can severely injure themselves, but the most common injuries leading to amputation include events such as motor vehicle accidents, heavy machinery accidents, natural disasters, or combat/war. About 70 percent of amputations due to injury are in the upper extremities.
The best way to prevent amputation from a severe injury is through awareness and education. This obviously doesn’t eliminate all risk of traumatic injury, but educating yourself and others about risk factors can help you avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
Sometimes, amputation may be necessary if a person has an infection or disease that spreads to their blood vessels or nerves. These instances are obviously more rare, but complications stemming from cancer or tumors is another non-traumatic way that someone may need an amputation.
In cases where a patient has an issue such as bone cancer or osteosarcoma, doctors will only use amputation as a last resort if surgery is necessary. If possible, doctors will use limb-salvage surgery to keep the limb intact while still removing cancer or tumors, as well as some tissue. If cancer or tumors spread into the nerves or blood vessels, then amputation may be the only option.
Similarly, amputation may be necessary because of infection. An infection may travel throughout your body and cause damage to blood vessels, nerves, tissues, and in some cases can even trigger sepsis. In fact, about 38 amputations per day in the U.S are due to complications with sepsis. There’s also evidence that the COVID-19 virus can lead to an increased risk of blood clots and sepsis that may lead to amputation down the line.
If these instances occur, doctors will similarly use amputation as a last resort to remove damaged tissue. Although limb loss due to bacterial infections is rarer in developed countries, it can still occur without proper hygiene or medical care. It’s best to seek medical help as early as possible to avoid the possible spread of infection.
These are not common, but there are also instances in which a person may require amputation because of a congenital or acquired deformity in their limbs. People may also opt for amputation if they no longer can move an extremity due to illness, trauma, or other reasons.
Congenital deformities happen at birth and may show as a shorter or underdeveloped limb. There are also cases where a child can be born with a complete absence of the limb, though this is even less common. On some occasions, doctors perform surgery to straighten the limb or address the inequality in length.
Acquired deformities, meanwhile, are pretty much what they sound like. An injury or other health crisis may cause the limb to become drastically misshapen or, if acquired during childhood, stop growing.
There isn’t one root cause of congenital deformities, but smoking while pregnant or an unexpected reaction to certain drugs may be a factor.
Assuming you have a surgical amputation overseen by medical professionals, your amputation will fall into one of two broad categories: upper limb and lower limb. There are several types of amputation within each category, and each type will affect your daily life differently.
Though some types of amputation are more likely to cause complications than others, advances in technology mean that it’s possible to resume many of your normal activities post-amputation. Ultimately, medical professionals are the only ones who can determine what, if any, amputation and treatment plan will be most beneficial for you.