One of the most difficult decisions a surgeon has to make is whether or not to amputate a patient’s limb. Careful consideration is given to the patient’s medical history, overall health and response to existing therapies. The decision to amputate a limb is only made after all other possible treatments have been explored. It truly is the last resort.
From a medical perspective, it is important to understand that amputation saves lives. From a personal perspective, it is a challenging conversation to have with the patient and their family who may not understand the severity of the situation, or the outcome if the right action is not taken quickly.
Why would a surgeon recommend amputation?
When faced with a life-threatening situation, the amputation of a limb, removing dead or infected tissue, may be the only remaining choice. Amputation may be the fastest path to a patient recovering and leading a normal life, and if treatment happens quickly enough, the higher the likeliness of rehabilitating successfully.
Life-threatening situations occur when there is an infection in the bone, a cancerous tumor in the muscle or bone, severe injury to the limb, or complications resulting from untreated sores or wounds, for example in diabetic cases. Sepsis is a major challenge, when the body’s defense system has to work overtime in the bloodstream to fight infection. This process can trigger inflammation leading to blood clots and organ failure. Blood clots caused by sepsis prevent normal blood flow to the extremities, blocking essential nutrients and causing the tissues to die. That is why we often hear of patients losing fingers, toes or even arms and legs after leaving their condition untreated for too long. In such cases, timely and complex decisions must be made in order to save the patient’s life.
Early detection and prompt medical care are essential
Diabetic or elderly patients are most at risk of developing sores, wounds, blisters or black spots, so it is important that their feet and legs are checked daily, and treated immediately if any areas of concern are detected.
In cases where there is an early diagnosis and saving the limb an option, patients will be advised to try to remain mobile to maintain their blood circulation. Increased circulation can promote healing and prevent the situation recurring. However, if left untreated, a black spot on the toe may turn into a life-threatening abscess on the lower leg, which could lead to amputation as a life-saving course of action.
Patients whose infection has not been detected at an early stage are often admitted into an intensive care unit (ICU) in an effort to stop the infection, monitor vital organs and regulate blood pressure.
Regular medical check-ups are crucial to maintaining the health and wellness of at-risk patients, and should be encouraged and supported by family members