Gangrene is the death of an organ or body tissue. When the blood supply is cut off, the tissues don't get enough oxygen. They begin to die. If the gangrene is widespread, it may cause generalized shock.
There are three main types:
Dry gangrene - lack of blood supply causes the tissues to dry up and slough off.
Wet gangrene - the tissues become moist and decompose. Wet gangrene usually occurs when the tissues are infected with bacteria.
Gas gangrene - a particular type of bacteria (Clostridia) produces gas bubbles in the tissues.
Causes of gangrene include:
- Infection, especially after surgery or injury
- Any condition that may block the blood flow to the tissues (such as atherosclerosis)
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for gangrene include:
- Drinking alcohol
- Traumatic injury, especially crushing injuries
- Wound infection after surgery
- Raynaud's disease
- Blood clots
- Ruptured appendix
- Intravenous drug use
Symptoms of gangrene may include:
- Pain, followed by numbness when the tissues are dead
- Sloughing off of skin
- Color changes, ranging from white, to red, to black
- Shiny appearance to skin
- Frothy, clear, watery discharge
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Tests may include:
- Blood Tests
- Tests of the discharge and tissue from the gangrenous area
- X-rays of the area
- CT Scan – a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of the inside of the body
- MRI Scan – a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of the inside of the body
Treatment of gangrene includes the following:
Antibiotics - these medications are given in a very potent form, through an IV.
Blood thinners - these drugs are given to prevent blood clots.
Debridement - a surgical procedure to cut away dead and dying tissue. It is done to try to avoid the spread of gangrene.
Amputation - if an entire toe, finger, hand, foot, leg, or arm is severely affected by gangrene, this body part may need to be removed.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment - this therapy involves exposing the affected tissue to oxygen at high pressure.
To help prevent gangrene:
- Patients with diabetes need to take very good care of their hands and feet.
- Surgical patients may be given antibiotics to help prevent infection (especially after intestinal surgery).