Background: Major amputation is a dreaded event with high mortality and morbidity. However, few studies have investigated the epidemiology of amputation in the elderly over time, in the face of evolving management and prevention efforts.
Methods: We undertook a retrospective study to determine the incidence rate, etiology and prognosis of major lower limb amputations (transtibial or higher) in elderly patients (> 65 years). Cases were identified over a 10-year period in the Geneva (Switzerland) area, where all amputations are performed in a single center and reliable demographic data are available.
Results: The rate of amputation varied from 1.8 to 11.4/10000 patients/year, increasing with age and male gender. Diabetes was present in 48% patients, and conferred a 10 times higher risk of amputation. Severe peripheral arterial disease (PAD) was present in > 94% patients. The prognosis remains poor, 47% patients had died after two years and only 53% patients could be equipped with a prosthetic limb. Over 10 years we found a progressive increase in age at amputation; this encouraging increase was mostly accounted for by diabetic patients (> 6 months per year).
Conclusions: The rate of amputation observed among elderly patients was low. Neither the rate nor the prognosis improved over the decade studied. However, the age at amputation increased by > 6 months/year, particularly in diabetic amputees, suggesting that current management successfully delays amputation. Amputations were almost exclusively performed for severe PAD. Further reduction in the rate of amputation will require progress in the prevention and management of PAD.