Amputation 

Introduction 

Leg amputation: Colin's story

In this video, Colin Edwards talks about why his leg was amputated, and how losing a leg needn't stop you from leading an active life.

Media last reviewed: 20/08/2013

Next review due: 20/08/2015

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An amputation is the surgical removal of part of the body, usually an arm or leg.

There are three main reasons why an amputation is carried out:

  • The limb has been affected by gangrene (when the body’s tissue begins to die as a result of loss of blood supply)
  • The limb poses a life-threatening danger to the person’s health, for example because it has been affected by cancer or a serious infection
  • The limb has experienced serious trauma, such as a crush or blast wound

Learn more in why amputation is needed.

How common are amputations?

Approximately 5-6,000 major limb amputations are carried out in the UK every year.

The most common reason for amputation is a loss of blood supply to the affected limb (critical ischaemia), which accounts for 70% of lower limb amputations. Trauma is the most common reason for upper limb amputation, which accounts for 57%.

People with either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes are particularly at risk and are 15 times more likely to need an amputation than the general population. This is because the high blood glucose levels in diabetes can damage blood vessels, leading to a restriction in blood supply.

More than half of all amputations are performed in people aged 70 or over and men are twice as likely to need an amputation as women.

Learn more in how amputation is performed.

Prosthetics

After the amputation, it may be possible to fit a prosthetic (artificial) limb onto the remaining stump. Prosthetic limbs have become increasingly sophisticated and can reproduce many functions of the hands, arms and legs.

For example, many people who have had the foot and lower section of the leg from beneath the knee removed (transtibial amputation) can walk or ride a bike using a prosthetic limb.

However, adjusting to life with a prosthetic limb requires an extensive course of physiotherapy and rehabilitation. Also, it takes a lot more physical energy to use a prosthetic limb as your  body has to compensate for the missing muscle and bone. This is why frail people or those with a serious health condition, such as heart disease, may not be suitable for a prosthetic limb.

Learn more in recovering from amputation.

Outlook

The outlook for people with an amputation often depends on:

  • their age (younger people tend to cope better with the physical demands of adjusting to life with an amputation)
  • how much of the limb was removed (if less of the limb is removed, there will be a greater range of movement in the prosthetic limb)
  • how well they cope with the emotional and psychological impact of amputation

Many people who have had an amputation reported feeling emotions such as grief and bereavement, similar to experiencing the death of a loved one.

A phantom limb is also a common complication following an amputation. This is when a person experiences the sensation of their limb still being attached to their body, often causing pain.

Learn more about complications of amputation.

Page last reviewed: 11/07/2012

Next review due: 11/07/2014

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