What are the Different Reasons for a Digit Amputation?

Christina Edwards

Digit amputation refers to the removal of a digit. A digit, commonly known as a finger or toe, can be amputated either naturally or by a surgeon. Natural amputation usually occurs after some sort of trauma, but it can sometimes happen in the womb, before birth. A surgeon will typically perform a finger amputation or a toe amputation if the digit has suffered irreparable damage from an accident, or to stop the spread of some infections. Digit amputation may also be an option for certain birth defects.

Frostbitten fingers that turn gangrenous require amputation.
Frostbitten fingers that turn gangrenous require amputation.

Sometimes a digit amputation happens as a result of an accident. This amputation can be complete or partial. In some cases, a surgeon may be able to reattach a person's digit, even if it was severed completely. Other cases, however, may require the finger or toe to be amputated, especially if it has been damaged considerably.

Various infections to a toe can be cause for amputation.
Various infections to a toe can be cause for amputation.

One of the most common reasons for a medical digit amputation is ischemia. This happens when the blood vessels that supply a certain area of the body become constricted. String or a rubber band wrapped around a finger or toe can cause ischemia, but it can also happen when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood, or when major veins are crushed during an accident. Doctors will usually perform a digit amputation in the case of ischemia in a finger or toe, since it often causes the soft tissue around these bones to die. This condition is known as gangrene.

Diabetics are particularly susceptible to gangrene, as they often have impaired circulation.
Diabetics are particularly susceptible to gangrene, as they often have impaired circulation.

Bacteria can also cause gangrene, but this type of gangrene is known as wet gangrene. This happens when certain bacteria infect damaged, or nearly dead tissues. If left untreated, these bacteria can spread to the blood from a finger or toe, resulting in something known as sepsis. Sepsis is also commonly known as blood poisoning, and it can potentially be fatal. A digit amputation to stop the spread of gangrene from a finger or toe to the rest of the body is not uncommon.

Ischemia is one of the most common reasons for toe amputation.
Ischemia is one of the most common reasons for toe amputation.

Other infections of a finger or toe can also result in a digit amputation. Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone or bone marrow, and it occurs when there is an infection inside a bone. Once it gets inside the bone, this infection can be very difficult to get rid of, and it may begin to spread to other parts of the body. To prevent this, many doctors will recommend a digit amputation of fingers or toes.

Osteomyelitis may cause swelling of the ankles and feet.
Osteomyelitis may cause swelling of the ankles and feet.

Certain birth defects may be another reason for a surgeon to perform a digit amputation. Polydactylism occurs when a person is born with one or more extra digits. Usually, these digits are simply a flap of soft tissue, which can be easily removed. In a few cases, however, they may contain bone and be fully functioning.

Digit amputation may occur as a result of an accident.
Digit amputation may occur as a result of an accident.

Amniotic band syndrome is a birth defect that happens when strong fibers in the womb wrap around the limbs or digits of the fetus. This can result in complete amputation of a digit before birth. Other times, though, it may be necessary to perform a digit amputation after the infant is born, especially if the digit was damaged severely.

Amniotic band syndrome may result in complete amputation of a digit before birth.
Amniotic band syndrome may result in complete amputation of a digit before birth.

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