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Amputation prosthetic foot

Do I Really Need an Amputation?

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About 2.1 million Americans have experienced an amputation and more than 185,000 amputations are performed each year, according to the National Limb Loss Information Center. It’s a condition that results in the loss of a limb due to injury, disease or surgery. The most common type of amputation is of the leg, either above or below the knee. But why would you need an amputation?

Critical Limb Ischemia

Good circulation is vital to your health. Without adequate blood flow, the cells in your body may not get the oxygen and nutrients they need from the bloodstream. This circulatory condition results in narrow blood vessels that reduce the blood flow to the limbs, heart, brain or intestines. Fatty deposits and calcium build up in the walls of the arteries. If left untreated, the affected tissue may begin to die, and infection may set in. This could result in tissue damage and loss of limbs, called “critical limb ischemia.”

Symptoms of Ischemia

The symptoms of ischemia depend on how rapidly the blood flow is delayed and where it happens. Early symptoms of ischemia happening in your limbs may result in pain, burning or cramping in the muscles during exercise. Over time, this may progress to critical limb ischemia. This reduction of blood flow results in severe pain and loss of tissue. This pain is also known as “rest pain” because it occurs when resting or asleep. If the pain occurs during sleep, it can wake you up and can be relieved by walking around or hanging the leg over the bed. If untreated, the tissue may become infected, resulting in a non-healing sore or gangrene (the skin will turn black). This requires immediate attention.

Diagnosis of Ischemia

Symptoms are your first clue. If the ischemia is occurring in your lower extremities, you may need an ankle brachial index test, which tests the blood pressure in your legs. A Duplex ultrasound image or a computed tomography of the arteries may also be needed. An arteriogram, which is an X-ray of the arteries while dye is injected into the blood vessels, may also be needed.


Depending on the location and how severe the ischemia is, different treatment options are available. Controlling risk factors such as smoking is vital. Our smoking cessation specialists are here to help end smoking for good! The treatment for critical limb ischemia is focused on getting more blood supply to the area of the ischemia. This can be accomplished with:

  • Medication
  • Exercise
  • Surgery or endovascular procedures

At Ochsner, we understand that the loss of a limb produces a permanent disability. This affects a patient’s self-image, self-care and mobility. Rehabilitation starts after surgery. As the patient’s conditions improve, a more intensive rehabilitation program begins. Our rehabilitation inpatient clinic specializes in treating patients who have had an amputation. Our Rehabilitation Team creates treatment plans designed to fit each patient’s needs. Our team includes:

  • Physiatrist
  • Nursing staff
  • Physical therapists
  • Occupational therapist
  • Speech therapist
  • Social worker
  • Recreational therapist
  • Pastoral care
  • Primary care physician
  • Case managers/patient care coordinator

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