Background: This study was made to evaluate the experience at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital with consecutive major lower extremity amputations over a period of 7 years.
Methods: The records of 229 patients (221 male and 8 female) who underwent 296 consecutive major lower extremity amputations (119 above-knee amputations [AKA] and 177 below-knee amputations [BKA]) over a period of 86 months (September 1994 to October 2001) were retrospectively analyzed. All amputations were performed by members of the vascular surgery department.
Results: Forty of the 229 patients (17%) eventually required a contralateral amputation, 27 patients (12%) had BKAs that eventually necessitated conversion to AKA, and 44 amputations (15%) required an initial guillotine amputation. The 30-day mortalities for BKA, AKA, and BKA to AKA operations were 12%, 17%, and 7%, respectively. Eighty-eight of the amputations (30%) developed wound complications, and required 137 revisions. Seventy-seven of the amputations (26%) had undergone prior revascularization, of which 31 (48%) had an early failed bypass. The average preoperative ankle/brachial index (ABI) was 0.57. Of the patients undergoing amputation, 97 (42%) complained of rest pain, 91 (40%) complained of claudication, and 158 (69%) had tissue loss or gangrene at the time of their operation. One hundred and forty-six patients (64%) were diabetic. Twenty-two patients (9%) were dialysis dependent and 81 patients (35%) admitted to smoking. Of the known causes of death, 21 resulted from myocardial infarction, 22 from congestive heart failure, 14 from respiratory failure, 13 from disseminated cancer, 10 from sepsis, 7 from stroke, and 6 from renal failure. Preoperative functional status determinations revealed that of 272 patients with enough information to assess functional status, 43 were totally dependent, 97 were partially independent, and 132 were independent. Of the 229 patients, 168 (73%) were ambulatory prior to their amputation, and at the completion of this review only 53 patients (23%) were ambulatory.
Conclusions: Most patients undergoing major lower extremity amputations have many comorbidities; hence morbidity and mortality rates are high, with the most common causes of death being cardiac and respiratory in nature. These data suggest that major lower extremity amputations highlight a very high-risk population with only 39% survival at 7 years, as well as a costly subset secondary to prolonged hospitalization times (average 15 days, range 3 to 105), in addition to the extraordinary cost associated with diminished functional status.