Rising rates of diabetes and vascular disease are contributing to the growing number of amputations taking place each year, with doctors estimating that some 50,000 Canadians lose a leg to the procedure yearly.

However, hospitals are turning to a new, minimally invasive procedure, that some doctors say could prevent a number of Canadians from undergoing an amputation.

The procedure involves inserting a balloon coated with drugs inside a blood vessel to open up a blocked artery.

“You put the balloon in. You leave the balloon inflated for a few moments (and) in that time the drug that is on the surface of the balloon gets transmitted to the inside of the blood vessel wall,” Dr. Barry Rubin, program medical director at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, told CTV’s Avis Favaro.

“When you deflate the balloon the drug is left behind,” he said.

The technique was adapted from a similar procedure that is used in heart surgeries.

Doctors say with standard treatments used for patients with poor blood flow in their limb, 50 per cent of the time the blood vessels re-narrow, putting the limb at risk of amputation.

Early studies from Europe show the drug-coated balloon procedure could cut the number of leg veins that re-narrow in half, preventing a number of amputations.

“There are very few things in medicine that have (shown) such a big improvement,” said Dr. Kong Teng Tan, head of interventional radiology at the University Health Network.

“In Europe they are a few years ahead of us and the results show that the (drug coated) balloon is far superior compared to what we used to do,” Teng Tan said, explaining that doctors have traditionally opened up the blocked blood vessel with a balloon.

Enid Muchnik was at risk of having her leg amputated, after a blockage was preventing blood from flowing to her foot, causing her severe pain.

“I couldn’t stand it,” Muchnik said. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t walk.”

All other treatments had failed when Muchnik underwent the procedure, which rid her of the constant pain and spared her an amputation.

“I started to drive again. I could go to the hairdresser,” she said. “I was independent again.”

Doctors are awaiting the final study results to determine of the procedure should be offered to more Canadian at risk of losing a limb to amputation.

With files from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip