Definition

Gangrene is the progressive death of body tissue resulting from a lack of blood supply. When the blood supply is cut off, the tissue does not get enough oxygen and begins to die.

Gangrene can be internal or external. The two most common types of gangrene are:

    
  • Dry gangrene—Lack of blood supply causes the tissue to die.
  • Wet gangrene—Usually occurs when the tissue is infected with bacteria from an injury. The tissue becomes moist and breaks down.
  • A rarer wet type, called gas gangrene, develops from specific bacteria deep inside the body. Gas gangrene can be a result of surgery or trauma.

    Causes

    Gangrene is caused by infection or a reduced blood supply to tissues.

    Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of developing gangrene include:

        
  • Advancing age
  • Poorly controlled health conditions, such as diabetes or atherosclerosis , which may affect blood vessels
  • Health conditions or medications that suppress the immune system
  • Perforated bowel
  • Severe trauma
  • Surgery
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • IV drug use
  • Symptoms

    External gangrene may cause:

        
  • Color changes, ranging from white, to red, to black
  • Shiny appearance to skin
  • Foul-smelling, frothy, clear, or watery discharge
  • Sloughing off of skin
  • Severe pain followed by loss of feeling in the affected area
  • Internal gangrene may cause:

        
  • Fever and chills
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lightheadedness or fainting, which may be caused by low blood pressure
  • If the gangrene is widespread, sepsis can occur.

    Gangrene of the Foot

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    Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Tests may include:

        
  • Blood tests
  • Tests of the discharge and the tissue
  • Imaging studies looking for type and extent of damage     
  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Treatment

    Treatment of gangrene includes:

        
  • IV antibiotics—to treat infection
  • Debridement —surgical procedure to cut away dead and dying tissue, done to try to avoid gangrene from spreading
  • Supportive care, including fluids, nutrients, and pain medication to relieve discomfort
  • Blood thinners—given to prevent blood clots
  • Surgery may also be done to restore blood flow to the affected area
  • Amputation—removal of severely affected body part
  • Hyperbaric oxygen treatment—exposing the affected tissue to oxygen at high pressure may have some benefit
  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of getting gangrene, take these steps:

        
  • If you have chronic health conditions, adhere to the treatment plan outlined by your doctor.
  • If you have diabetes, inspect your feet every day for cuts, sores, or wounds.
  • Care for any cuts, sore, or wounds promptly to avoid infection.
  • If you need surgery, ask your doctor about taking antibiotics. This is especially true if you need intestinal surgery.