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.
Gangrene is caused by infection or a reduced blood supply to tissues.
Factors that may increase your chance of developing gangrene include: Advancing age
Poorly controlled health conditions, such as
, which may affect blood vessels
Health conditions or medications that suppress the immune systemPerforated bowelSevere traumaSurgerySmokingObesity
External gangrene may cause: Color changes, ranging from white, to red, to blackShiny appearance to skinFoul-smelling, frothy, clear, or watery dischargeSloughing off of skinSevere pain followed by loss of feeling in the affected area
Internal gangrene may cause: Fever and chillsConfusionNausea and vomitingDiarrheaLightheadedness or fainting, which may be caused by low blood pressure
If the gangrene is widespread,
Gangrene of the Foot
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The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include: Blood testsTests of the discharge and the tissue
Imaging studies looking for type and extent of damage
Treatment of gangrene includes: IV antibiotics—to treat infectionDebridement
—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 discomfortBlood thinners—given to prevent blood clotsAmputation—removal of severely affected body partHyperbaric oxygen treatment
—involves exposing the affected tissue to oxygen at high pressure
Surgery may also be done to restore blood flow to the affected area
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.
Fujiwara Y, Kishida K, et al. Beneficial effects of foot care nursing for people with diabetes mellitus: an uncontrolled before and after intervention study.
J Adv Nurs. 2011;67(9):1952-1962.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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