Veterans are more likely to lose their limbs and require amputation as a result of diseases such as diabetes than they are through combat, a new study has suggested.
The study from the University of Glasgow, published in BMJ Military Health, found the number of Scottish veterans with an amputation through disease is higher than those who have lost limbs in conflict.
Researchers suggest as well as diabetes, the most common cause of limb loss in veterans is peripheral arterial disease – blockage of arteries.
And despite veterans having more risk factors such as smoking, the study also found their rate of disease-related amputation is no different from people in the wider community.
Lead researcher Dr Beverly Bergman, who was recently awarded an OBE for her work, is an honorary senior research fellow and leader of the Scottish Veterans Health Research Group at the university.
She said: “Losing a limb is one of the most devastating consequences of combat.
“But it is important that we do not forget the much larger number of both veterans and non-veterans who are affected in exactly the same way, but through disease.
“People can reduce their risk by maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking; but, in the meantime, it’s important that we make plans to offer support for ageing veterans who have lost limbs due to disease, so they are given the same care as that afforded to the victims of conflict, who often benefit from a higher profile and greater perceived public support.”
The retrospective cohort study, using data from the Trends in Scottish Veterans’ Health Study, looked at 78,000 veterans and 253,000 other people in Scotland born between 1945 and 1995.
Survival analysis was used to examine the risk of amputation in veterans compared with non-veterans.
Peripheral arterial disease was recorded in two thirds of both veteran and non-veteran amputees, while type 2 diabetes was found in 41% of veterans and 33% of non-veterans.
A dual diagnosis was reported in 32% of veterans and 26% of non-veterans.
However, trauma was an infrequent cause of amputation.
The study – Post-service lower limb amputation in Scottish military veterans – was funded by the Forces in Mind Trust and can be found online.