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What is amputation?

Amputation is the loss of all or part of a body part on the outside of your body. It may be something as small as a fingertip or it may be an entire arm or leg.

When do amputations happen?

A body part might have to be removed as treatment for:

  • severe infection or injury
  • cancer
  • body tissue that is dying because it has a poor blood supply.

Diabetic foot problems are the most common reason people need amputation. Diabetes can cause sores on the feet that you might not even know you have if you don’t regularly check your feet. The sore can get severely infected and cause the flesh to die (gangrene).

Amputation may also happen as the result of an injury. For example, you might lose a finger, arm, or leg in a car accident or accident at work.

How are amputations treated?

If a body part has been surgically removed, the treatment is focused on healing the wound and preventing complications.

If an amputation was accidental, the treatment depends on:

  • what body part was lost
  • how long it happened before treatment
  • how damaged the amputated part is.

If the amputated part is not too damaged and you get treatment very soon after the accident, sometimes the lost body part can be put back onto the body. This is called reimplantation.

If an amputated part cannot be reimplanted or if the amputation is part of a medical treatment, then you will no longer have that body part. Physical and occupational therapy will help you go back to an active life without the amputated part.

You will be given antibiotics to prevent infection and pain medicines to help relieve pain.

Some people find it helpful to replace the missing body part with an artificial body part. The artificial body part is called a prosthesis. The prosthesis is fitted to your body. There are many different types of prostheses. Some have microcomputers in them. Deciding if you will get a prosthesis is a personal choice. Most people can return to an active life with or without a prosthesis. They can go back to work and take part in sports and activities they enjoy.

After an amputation you may have feelings called phantom pain. The pain seems to be in the part of your body that you lost. You may also have feelings of burning, tingling, or itching. You may have stump pain at the place on your body where the lost body part used to be. The exact cause of these feelings is not well understood. These feelings may be treated with medicines or other types of therapy.

What can I do to help prevent amputations?

Many amputations result from accidents that may be hard to prevent. However, some amputations can be prevented.

  • If you have diabetes, you can prevent sores and other infections with careful foot inspections, good foot care, and shoes that fit properly.
  • Not smoking can help prevent poor blood circulation.
  • Using good safety habits when operating machinery can prevent serious injuries.

For more information, call the Amputee Coalition of America at 888-267-5669 or visit their Web site at

Written by Tom Richards, MD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-11-02
Last reviewed: 2010-07-20
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.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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