Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It happens when the immune system attacks myelin, the protective coating on nerve fibers.
This causes inflammation and nerve damage, which results in symptoms like vision issues, numbness, and cognitive problems.
Almost 1 million people in the United States have MS, according to the National MS Society. MS also typically appears between 20 and 40 years old, though it can appear at any age.
Over time, the nerve damage caused by MS can lead to painful or paralyzed limbs. As a result, some people with MS might consider amputating the limb.
This is extremely uncommon, but it may be necessary in certain cases. Read on to learn what situations might warrant the procedure.
Most people with MS do not choose amputation, even if they have painful or paralyzed limbs.
However, in certain very rare cases, a person with MS may want to remove their affected limb. Possible reasons include:
Infected pressure sores
If you have limited mobility due to MS, you might develop pressure sores on your limbs. This happens when the constant pressure of sitting or lying down damages your skin.
Without treatment, pressure sores can become infected. The infection can spread to the deeper layers of the skin.
If the infection on your limb is severe, an amputation might be necessary.
Chronic neuropathic pain
Neuropathic pain, or nerve pain, is a common symptom of MS. It usually affects one or more limbs.
The pain can limit the function and movement of the limb. This can reduce the quality of life and contribute to disability.
Typically, neuropathic pain caused by MS is treated with:
However, these treatments are not always effective.
If the pain is severe, a person with MS might opt to remove the limb.
MS can lead to paralysis, but not in all cases. About two-thirds of people with MS will still be able to walk with an aid, such as a cane or scooter, reports the National MS Society.
In some situations, severe MS might cause paralysis in a limb. If this happens, a person might choose to amputate the limb.
An amputation, like other surgical procedures, poses several risks.
In general, amputation can lead to:
- heart problems
- deep vein thrombosis
- wound infection
- slow wound healing
- phantom limb pain
Phantom limb pain is the sensation of pain in a limb you no longer have. The exact cause of this pain is unknown. It might be related to:
- nerve damage and irritation
- increased neural activity and sensitivity in the spinal cord (central sensitization)
- brain redirecting pain sensations (brain remapping)
Amputation is an extremely rare treatment option for MS. Even for severe MS pain, amputation is typically not considered an option.
Instead, the following MS treatments are much more common and frequently used:
- physical therapy
- epidural injections or spinal stimulators
- complementary treatments, like acupuncture
Amputation is not a typical part of MS management and treatment. But you might consider the procedure if you have very severe MS complications.
Amputation might be appropriate if:
- your limb is paralyzed
- you have severe neuropathic pain in your limb
- you have severely infected pressure sores in your limb
Speak with your doctor if you’re interested in amputation to improve your symptoms. But also discuss all alternative treatments: Amputation is a permanent, irreversible procedure with no guarantee of improving MS symptoms.
MS is an autoimmune disease that causes progressive nerve damage. Over time, this damage can cause numbness and limited mobility in the limbs.
In most cases, amputation is not necessary for MS. In very rare circumstances, some people might consider the procedure to address severe MS complications. This includes chronic neuropathic pain, infected pressure sores, and paralysis in the limbs.
If you have an MS diagnosis, it’s important to develop a management plan with your doctor. This will help reduce your risk of severe complications and help manage your symptoms.