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Amputation

Alternate Names

  • limb removal

Definition

Amputation is a surgery to remove a limb or part of a limb. Amputation can also happen as an acute injury, which is called a traumatic amputation.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

Amputation is most often used for one of four conditions:
  • gangrene, which is a severe limb infection with death of tissue
  • lack of enough blood flow through the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the affected limb
  • severe trauma or injury of a limb
  • cancer or a tumor involving a limb
Amputation has serious emotional and physical effects. For this reason, limb removal is usually advised only when other options are not possible or have little chance of success.

How is the procedure performed?

There are many different ways to perform an amputation. A single finger or toe may be removed, or an entire arm or leg. The surgeon will usually try to remove as little of the limb as needed to treat the condition.
An amputation is done in an operating room. In many cases, general anesthesia is used to put the person completely to sleep with medications. Regional anesthesia may also be used. In this case, a person is awake but has no sensation of pain.
The area of skin where the incision will be made is cleaned. The surgeon then cuts into and through the skin. In most cases, the surgeon will remove the limb or part of the limb at a point where there is a joint. For instance, the entire leg below the knee may be removed. The knee area is chosen partly because this is where the shinbone, or tibia, meets the thighbone, or femur. Removing the part or whole limb at a joint prevents the need to break one of the bones.
After the part or whole limb is removed, the skin is closed with sutures. A bandage or dressing is then placed over it.

Sources

Essentials of General Surgery, 1996, Lawrence

The Merck Manual, 1997, Berkow et al.

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