Reduction of the incidence of amputation in frostbite injury with thrombolytic therapy

Arch Surg. 2007 Jun;142(6):546-51; discussion 551-3. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.142.6.546.


Hypothesis: Thrombolytic therapy will decrease the incidence of amputation when administered within 24 hours of exposure.

Design: Single institution retrospective review of clinical outcomes and resource use.

Setting: Burn unit of a tertiary academic referral center.

Patients: From 2001 to 2006, patients with severe frostbite admitted within 48 hours of injury underwent digital angiography and treatment with intra-arterial tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) if abnormal perfusion was demonstrated. These patients were compared with those treated from 1995 to 2006 who did not receive tPA.

Interventions: Tissue plasminogen activator vs traditional management of frostbite injury.

Main outcome measures: Number and type of surgery were recorded, along with amputations of digits (fingers or toes) and more proximal (ray, transmetatarsal, or below-knee) amputations. Resource utilization including length of stay, total costs, cost per involved digit, and cost per saved digit were analyzed.

Results: Thirty-two patients with digital involvement (hands, 19%; feet, 62%; both, 19%) were identified. Seven patients received tPA, 6 within 24 hours of injury. The incidence of digital amputation in patients who did not receive tPA was 41%. In those patients who received tPA within 24 hours of injury, the incidence of amputation was reduced to 10% (P<.05).

Conclusions: Tissue plasminogen activator improved tissue perfusion and reduced amputations when administered within 24 hours of injury. This modality represents the first clinically significant advancement in the treatment of frostbite in more than 25 years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amputation, Surgical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Fibrinolytic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Frostbite / diagnosis
  • Frostbite / drug therapy*
  • Frostbite / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thrombolytic Therapy*
  • Tissue Plasminogen Activator / administration & dosage*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Fibrinolytic Agents
  • Tissue Plasminogen Activator