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Common causes of amputation

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The loss of a limb or another part of the body can have a devastating and life-changing impact. If it happens to you or a loved one, it can change the way you do things forever – and that can be hard to adapt to. At Shoosmiths, we have helped many people to rebuild their lives after an amputation – and our amputation claims solicitors are here to support you too.

Read on to learn more about some of the most common causes of amputation – and what our team of legal experts could be able to do for you.

What is amputation?

In simple terms, amputation – as the NHS describes – is when part of the body is removed by surgical means. This includes limbs such as arms and legs, as well as extremities including the fingers and toes. The type and cause of amputation that someone might suffer can come down to a range of factors – from medical illness to sudden accidents.

But the long-term impact of an amputation can often be hard to come to terms with physically and emotionally. And that is why receiving the right support and care can be so important.

What causes amputations?

The definition seems a simple one – but there are many different causes of amputations. Some are a direct result of an accident, while others are needed as an immediate action to save lives.

Some amputations are ‘elective’, for example. This includes the decision that faced Shoosmiths client Leysa Jane Hardy. Following a road traffic accident and heeding medical advice, Leysa chose to amputate her right leg below the knee to avoid future problems she might face as she grows older.

In general, there are several causes of amputation or reasons that medical professionals might suggest the removal of a limb or part of the body:

Delay in the treatment of vascular disease

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) – or Peripheral Vascular Disease – is the world’s leading cause of amputation. For people suffering from PAD, their blood flow can be reduced. This will make it harder for the body to repair any damage. This can also mean that even the smallest injuries don’t heal properly. Inadequate blood flow alone can cause damage to the skin and extremities.

PAD can lead to infection, ulceration and gangrene without treatment. If there is any delay in the diagnosis and treatment of PAD, this is when it can result in an amputation.

Diabetes

This is perhaps the most common cause of amputation – and it is becoming even more common. But how can diabetes cause amputation? Well, it can lead to the narrowing of blood vessels (like PAD). This, in turn, reduces blood flow to the limbs. Nerves can also be damaged as a result of diabetes, which can mean the person doesn’t feel their limbs being damaged.

It is very important for diabetics – especially the elderly – to regularly check their feet and legs for injuries, sores, ulcers or signs of poor blood flow. If a doctor fails to identify these problems or doesn’t provide treatment quickly enough, this is why diabetes can cause amputation.

Trauma

A traumatic accident that results in crush injuries or severe burns can cause amputations. When a limb is damaged beyond repair, it may need to be amputated to stop the spread of infection. It can also be done to relieve any unmanageable pain.

Some of the common causes of traumatic amputation include road traffic accidents, accidents at work, farming accidents, military injuries or electrocution.

It is not unusual for such accidents to lead to an immediate traumatic amputation either. This is where the amputation occurs at the time of accident or by surgical means soon after. If it is the latter, this is where an individual suffers extensive damage to a limb and later elects to have the damaged limb removed due to ongoing pain, mobility issues or to stop the spread of infection.

Sepsis (or septicaemia)

This is a form of blood poisoning that can develop if an infection is not treated. It can block the blood vessels, which then causes tissue to die. If too much tissue dies, it may need amputation. 

Meningitis

This inflammatory condition affects the brain and spinal cord. It can lead to sepsis, which could damage the blood vessels. If so, it forces the body to prioritise blood flow to the vital organs – leaving the limbs and other extremities at risk of damage.

Meningitis is a medical emergency. Any delay in the diagnosis and treatment of meningococcal septicaemia can lead to the amputation of fingers, toes, hands, feet or indeed whole limbs.

Compartment syndrome

Compartment syndrome is a common cause of amputation. In the body, tissue known as fascia acts to separate muscle groups. It is similar to the way plastic sleeving is used to insulate wires. Within this fascia is a compartment filled with blood vessels, nerves and other tissue.

After a traumatic accident or damage to the bone, the tissues within the compartment can start to swell. This can cause a build-up of pressure that may damage your nerves, blood vessels and tissues. If that damage inside the compartment is so severe, an amputation may be necessary.

Post-operative blood clots

After an operation, the risk of a blood clot increases. If surgery involves the repair of arteries or veins, this risk is much higher. Not providing blood thinning medication after surgery (known as prophylactic anticoagulants) can result in a blood clot forming.

Clots in a vein – such as Deep Vein Thrombosis – can, if left untreated, cause swelling or more serious complications. Where the blood clot forms in an artery, urgent treatment is required to prevent the need for amputation.

The failure to diagnose or treat clots in a timely manner can have serious consequences – and this includes amputation.

Delay in diagnosis and treatment of cancer

The delayed diagnosis and/or treatment of bone cancer can be a cause of amputation. The aim – in such circumstances – will be to remove a cancerous tumour. A surgeon might try to save the limb by removing the tumour from the affected area and repairing it by inserting an implant or using a bone graft. This is called limb sparing or limb salvaging surgery.

But this will depend on the size and location of the tumour. If this type of limb sparing surgery cannot be done, a full amputation may be required.

Infections

Infections can have serious consequences if misdiagnosed or not treated promptly. Infections that cause amputation include:

Amputation and Shoosmiths: How we can help

It is never easy to come to terms with the life-changing impact of an amputation. It can turn the lives of you and your family upside down. It is especially the case when the cause of amputation is negligent medical treatment or an accident that was not your fault.

In such cases, it can be hard to know where to turn for help and support. After all, it is unlikely to be a situation you can prepare for. But, at Shoosmiths, our extensive experience of acting on behalf other people in a similar situation means we can also be there for you.

From bringing a claim for the compensation you deserve, to receiving the physical and emotional rehabilitation you need – our dedicated amputation claims solicitors have the skills and expertise to help you rebuild. And we will be with you long after the claim process is finished too.

It all starts with a free consultation – call us or send us a message today.

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