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Acute Care Advisor 2017.1 Copyright © 2017 RelayHealth, a division of McKesson Technologies Inc. All rights reserved.

What is an amputation?

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Amputation is the loss of all or part of a limb. You may lose just a fingertip or an entire leg. Amputation may be used to treat a severe injury, an infection, a poor blood supply, a wound that is not healing, or a tumor.

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Complications related to diabetes are the most common reason people need amputation. Accidental amputation may happen as the result of an injury, such as car or motorcycle accidents, industrial accidents, and outdoor recreation accidents. If an amputated part is not too damaged and the injury is recent, sometimes it can be re-attached onto the body. This is called re-implantation.

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After an amputation, if the body part is not re-implanted, you may have stump pain at the site of the surgery. You may also have what is called phantom pain. This pain feels like it is coming from the part of your body that you lost. You may also have feelings of burning, tingling, or itching. The exact cause of these feelings is not completely understood.

How is an amputation done?

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Before the procedure:

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  • Your healthcare provider will ask you to sign a consent form for the amputation if it is not an emergency situation. The consent form will state the reason you are having the procedure, what happens during the procedure, and what you may expect afterward.

  • There is risk with every treatment or procedure. Talk to your healthcare provider for complete information about whether any of these risks apply to you:

    • Anesthesia problems

    • Bleeding

    • Blood clots

    • Infection

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have any food, medicine, or other allergies such as latex.

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are taking any medicines, including nonprescription medicine, herbal remedies, or recreational or illegal drugs.

  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow for medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.

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During the procedure:

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  • You may be given a sedative through your IV to help you to relax.

  • You will be given medicines to prevent pain during your surgery. These may include:

    • Regional anesthesia, which numbs a large area of your body. Depending on the medicine, you may be awake or asleep during the procedure.

    • General anesthesia, which relaxes your muscles and puts you into a deep sleep. It also keeps you from remembering the operation. While you are asleep, you will have a tube in your throat to help you breath and to make sure you are getting enough oxygen. The tube may be removed before you wake up after the surgery.

  • The surgeon will make a cut in the body part that will be removed and cut through the muscles, bone, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels. He or she will sew the blood vessels shut and sew the muscles over the bone for padding. Then the surgeon will cover the muscles with skin.

  • Temporary tubes may be left in place to drain blood and fluid.

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After the procedure:

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  • You will be checked often by nursing staff.

  • There will be a dressing on the area where the body part was removed. The dressing will be checked and changed by your provider or the nursing staff as needed.

  • You will need to keep your arm or leg raised up higher than your heart.

  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:

    • Treat pain

    • Treat or prevent an infection

    • Treat or prevent blood clots

  • Your provider may recommend other types of therapy to help relieve pain, other symptoms, or side effects of treatment.

  • If a drain has been left in the surgical wound, it will be checked and emptied regularly.

  • Your blood oxygen level will be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.

  • A heart (cardiac) monitor may be used to keep track of your heartbeat.

  • You may need to continue a rehabilitation program after you leave the hospital to help you adjust to the loss of your limb. Most rehabilitation programs include:

    • Physical therapy to help you regain muscle strength and teach you ways to move safely

    • Occupational therapy to help you relearn ways to do tasks without the amputated body part

What can I do to help?

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  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:

    • Pain at the amputation site

    • Pain that is not well controlled with your medicine

    • Side effects from your medicine, such as nausea, dizziness, and mental changes, such as hallucinations

    • Redness, swelling, pain, warmth, or drainage from your surgical wound

    • Fever, chills, or muscle aches

  • Ask questions about any medicine, treatment, or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

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How long you stay in the hospital depends on many things, such as your general health, why you are in the hospital, the treatment you need, and how well you recover. This is often between 3 to 12 days after you have the procedure. Talk with your provider about how long your stay may be.

References

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Toy PC. 2012. General Principles of Amputations. Campbell's operative orthopaedics [12th ed.]; 14, 598-611.e3. Philadelphia: Elsevier Mosby.
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Amputation. Society for Vascular Surgery. http://www.vascularweb.org/vascularhealth/pages/Amputation.aspx?PF=1. 2011. Accessed January 12, 2015.
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US Department of Health & Human Services. National and regional estimates on hospital use for all patients from the HCUP nationwide inpatient sample. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. http://hcupnet.ahrq.gov/HCUPnet.jsp. 2012. Accessed July 22, 2014.

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Published by RelayHealth.

Produced in Cork, Ireland.

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.