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Risks of an amputation

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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The risk of serious complications is higher in planned amputations than in emergency amputations.

This is because most planned amputations involve the leg and are carried out in older people with a restricted blood supply, who are in a poor state of health and who usually have a chronic (long-term) health condition, such as diabetes. Most emergency amputations involve the arm and are usually carried out in younger people who are often in a good state of health.

A recent study looked at lower limb amputations carried out in people with a restricted blood supply due to a condition such as diabetes or atherosclerosis. The study found that around 1 in 11 people died in the first 30 days after surgery.

The risk of death was higher for above-knee amputations (1 in 6) than below-knee amputations (1 in 17).

Other complications recorded were:

  • heart complications, such as heart attack or heart failure (when the heart has difficulty pumping blood around the body), which occurred in 1 in 10 cases
  • infection at the site of the surgery, which occurred in 1 in 20 cases
  • pneumonia (infection of the lungs), which occurred in 1 in 22 cases

The blood supply was not sufficiently restored in around 1 in 10 below-knee amputations, so a further above-knee amputation was required.

Due to the relatively high risk of complications, a planned amputation is seen as a 'treatment of last resort'. It is only used when there is no other way of preventing life-threatening and serious symptoms, such as gangrene, from developing.

Medical Review: August 09, 2010

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