Amputation is the surgical removal of all or part of a body such as the foot, hand, or finger. Amputation is a frightening specter for everyone, but often it is the only choice so that body tissue can function properly.
Causes of Amputation
There are many reasons why amputation must be performed. One of the most common causes is due to poor circulation or damage to arteries. Without adequate blood flow, the body’s cells cannot get oxygen and nutrients from the bloodstream. As a result, the affected tissue begins to die and infection can occur.
Other causes for amputation may include:
- Severe injuries (from vehicle accidents or serious burns)
- Malignant tumors/cancer of the bones or muscles of the extremities (limbs)
- Serious infections that do not improve with antibiotics or other medications
- Thickening of nerve tissue (neuroma)
- Tissue death due to freezing (frostbite). Frostbite is the freezing of several organs of the body exposed to excessive cold temperatures. Frostbite generally occurs at 0 °C (32 °F). Frostbite is known as frostbite where cell tissue in the body becomes damaged due to freezing.
Amputations usually require a hospital stay of 5-14 days, depending on the surgery and complications. The procedure itself can vary depending on the limb or amputated limb and the patient’s health.
Amputation can be done with general anesthesia (which means the patient is made unconscious) or with spinal anesthesia, which temporarily kills the body from the waist down.
When performing an amputation, the surgeon removes all the damaged tissue while leaving as much healthy tissue as possible. A doctor can use several methods to determine where the cut line is and how much tissue is taken, including:
- Check pulsation (pulse of blood flow) closest to the place planned to be cut
- Compare the temperature of the skin of the affected limb with the body temperature of a healthy limb
- Look for areas of reddened skin (indicating still getting blood flow)
- Checks whether the skin near the location for cutting is sensitive to touch
During the amputation process, the surgeon will take out the diseased tissue and every broken bone, flattening areas of bone that are not smooth, close the blood vessels and nerves. The final procedure that is usually done is to cut and form muscles so that it is blunt, or so that the ends of the amputated limbs can have prosthesis attached to the body.
Complications that may occur after amputation, either due to a procedure or due to injury, include:
- Phantom limb pain, which is pain that is felt in organs that are no longer possessed
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- Damage to blood vessels and nerves
Handling After Amputation
The surgeon can choose to close the wound directly by sewing skin flaps (closed amputations) or leaving the area open for several days, with the aim of removing additional tissue.
After that, the surgeon will place a sterile dressing on the wound and can place the stocking at the end of the amputated limb to hold blood from flowing. The surgeon will usually use a splint to reduce the occurrence of traction (the maximum frictional force that can be produced between two surfaces without slipping)
Doctor supervision is needed for wound healing and any conditions that might interfere with healing, such as the presence of an underlying disease, namely diabetes or hardening of the arteries. Usually the doctor will prescribe medication to ease pain and help prevent infection.
If the patient has problems with phantom pain (pain in the amputated limb) or sadness over the loss of a limb, the doctor will suggest seeing a psychologist.
Ideally, the wound should heal completely in about four to eight weeks. But physical and emotional adjustment for loss of limbs can be a long process. Long-term recovery and rehabilitation will include:
- Exercises to improve muscle strength and limb control
- Activities to help restore the ability to carry out daily activities
- The use of prosthetic limbs and assistive devices
- Emotional support from family and close associates, including counseling with psychologists, to help overcome grief due to loss of limbs and adjustment to new body image
Amputation due to injury usually occurs suddenly so it is very difficult to prevent. But for certain conditions, there are some things that can be done to prevent possible amputations, including:
- Don’t underestimate pain in the limbs
- Keep sharp objects in places that are rarely passed
- Wear protective gear when in risky work areas
- Keep children away from dangerous machines such as cutters or drills