A physiatrist discusses the prevalence of non-traumatic amputations while bringing awareness to some common causes and preventative measures you can take to avoid limb loss.
The role of a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician
As a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, or physiatrist, I do not perform surgeries or amputations. An orthopedic or vascular surgeon usually does those. Instead, I care for patients in a very diverse area of medicine. I help diagnose and treat individuals with neuromuscular and musculoskeletal disorders. But I also have a particular interest in amputee medicine.
Prevalence of limb loss
Currently, in the United States, about 185,000 patients undergo amputation of either an upper or lower extremity. In 2005, approximately 1.6 million people were living with an amputation, which equates to roughly 1 in 200 people. This means there is a strong likelihood that you or someone you know has had an amputation or will have one in their life. Over time, if left unchecked, it's predicted that this statistic will increase to 3.6 million people in 2050.
The reason for these high incidence numbers and predicted rates is multifactorial. It's important to understand that traumatic amputations are actually decreasing in rate. This is likely because surgeons now have access to more advanced technology, allowing them to salvage limbs.
However, non-traumatic amputations are on the rise. This increase is due to rising numbers of vascular diseases (diseases of the blood vessels in the arms, legs and upper body), peripheral artery disease, diabetes and smoking. They are the leading causes of an increased rate of amputations.
There are several factors that could increase someone's chances of amputation. Individuals with the following risk factors may be at an increased risk for limb loss:
- Age (over 65)
- High cholesterol
- Peripheral vascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Sedentary lifestyle
If you're concerned about your risk factors, please speak with your provider or someone who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. They can help you decide what steps to take to improve your health and decrease your risk of developing a progressive condition that could lead to amputation.
Surprisingly, 60% of non-traumatic amputations are preventable. Many people often wonder what they can do to avoid the occurrence altogether. If you are living with diabetes, controlling your blood sugar will be one of the most important ways of preventing peripheral neuropathy, thus reducing your risk of amputation. In addition to that, and in general, anyone at risk of amputation should improve their diet, exercise regularly, practice proper wound prevention and care (if you have diabetes), quit smoking and take steps to promote a healthy lifestyle and overall good quality of life.
Providers with PPG - Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation specialize in diagnosing, treating, and managing neurological, musculoskeletal and chronic pain conditions. For more information or to establish care, please call 206-785-2631.