Amputations are surprisingly common. About two million Americans have had an amputation due to disease or injury.
These amputations range from a fingertip or part of a toe to an entire limb. Regardless of the location of the amputation, the loss of your body part can cause significant disfigurement and disabilities.
Learn about the causes, effects, and complications of an amputation injury and how to seek compensation for an amputation you suffered due to an accident.
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Amputations have two primary causes. Diseases cause just over half of all amputations. These diseases usually affect your circulation, leading to tissue death.
Some diseases that can lead to amputations include:
Trauma causes the remaining 45% of amputations. These amputations result from accidents such as motor vehicle accidents and workplace accidents.
Car accidents and motorcycle accidents can cause lower limb injuries. In a front-end collision, the engine can get pushed into your car’s firewall and crush your legs. And in a motorcycle accident, your motorcycle will not protect your legs. They can get burned, crushed, or torn by the force of the accident.
Workplace accidents can lead to upper limb injuries. These accidents often involve tools or machinery that can sever, crush, or trap your fingers, hands, and arms.
Amputation injuries happen in two ways:
A traumatic amputation happens when your accident severs or tears your body part from you. In some situations, doctors can reattach an amputated body part. But several factors can limit their abilities, including:
Generally, tissue death usually happens in a body part after four to six hours without blood. If you cannot reach a surgical hospital within that time, doctors might recommend against attempting to reattach the body part.
Additionally, doctors might not reattach a body part contaminated with dirt or chemicals. Reattaching a contaminated body part might place your life at risk.
Severely damaged body parts, such as a body part mangled in a dog bite, might not have enough viable tissue for reattachment. And doctors might not have the time to repair crushed bones, torn blood vessels, and severed nerves before the cells of the severed part die.
Sometimes an accident causes such extensive damage to your body that doctors need to amputate to save your life. This often happens when your injuries compromise the blood flow to a body part. Without blood, the tissue will die, leading to gangrene. This life-threatening condition can poison your body as the dead tissue decays.
In a surgical amputation, doctors will identify where the tissue remains healthy. They will remove the damaged tissue and tie off the blood vessels and nerves. They will also smooth the end of the bone and fashion a stump from the remaining muscle and skin.
Doctors might leave your amputation site open. This allows them to treat infections in the site and remove additional tissue if necessary. After you recover from your surgery, doctors will close the site so you can get fitted for a prosthetic.
Many injuries can lead to a surgical amputation, including:
When a bone fractures into at least three pieces, you have a comminuted fracture. More commonly called a shattered bone, comminuted fractures can lead to amputation.
To reconstruct a shattered bone, doctors need to reassemble the pieces like a puzzle and hold them together with plates and screws. If they cannot find all the pieces or some pieces are too small or too damaged to reassemble, they might need to amputate your broken limb.
Damaged blood vessels also lead to amputations. Every cell in your body requires oxygen to live. Your circulating blood supplies this oxygen. If your blood vessels get severely damaged, your cells will not receive the blood it needs to keep the body part alive.
Burns happen when a chemical reaction destroys your body’s tissue. Burns can take many forms, including:
After a severe burn, your doctors may recommend amputation to remove the dead or dying tissue.
Amputations lead to several complications, including:
Infections happen when microorganisms enter your body. These microorganisms often release toxic substances and compete with your body cells for resources. As a result, your body cells die.
In response to an injury, your body will trigger inflammation. Your body will swell so that the blood vessels constrict. This traps the microorganisms in the injured body part. Your body will also run a fever. The elevated temperature kills the microorganisms.
The toxins from the microorganisms combined with the fever and swelling triggered by your body cause you to become very sick. If left untreated, you can develop sepsis and die from an infection.
Phantom limb syndrome is a very common complication of amputation injuries. Phantom limb affects about 80% of amputees at some point in their recoveries.
Phantom limb happens when the brain perceives nerve signals to come from the amputated body part. This is not a psychological issue. Instead, it results from the brain using an outdated map of the nervous system and your body. Your brain misinterprets signals from nerve endings in your stump and places the signal’s origin in your missing limb.
Depression affects about one-third of amputees. Depression after an amputation can arise from many causes, including:
Anxiety can also arise from the same circumstances. Depression and anxiety can often cause as many problems recovering from an amputation injury as the amputation itself.
If your amputation injury resulted from someone else’s negligence, you can seek compensation for your economic and non-economic losses. These losses can include medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.