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Gangrene

(Dry Gangrene; Gas Gangrene; Organ or Tissue Death; Wet Gangrene)

 

Definition

Gangrene is the progressive death of body tissue resulting from a lack of blood supply and infection. 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 rare wet type called gas gangrene, develops from specific bacteria deep inside the body. Gas gangrene can be a result of surgery or trauma.

 

Causes    TOP

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

 

Risk Factors    TOP

Gangrene is more common in older adults.

Other factors that may increase your chance of gangrene include:

 

Symptoms    TOP

External gangrene may cause:

  • Color changes, ranging from white, to red, to black
  • Shiny appearance to skin
  • Foul-smelling, frothy, clear, or watery discharge
  • Shedding 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
  • Focal or diffuse pain

If the gangrene is widespread, sepsis can occur.

Gangrene of the Foot

nucleus factsheet image

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

 

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Tests of the discharge and the tissue

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

 

Treatment    TOP

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    TOP

To help reduce your chances of gangrene:

  • If you have chronic health conditions, follow 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, sores, 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.
RESOURCES:

American Diabetes Association
http://www.diabetes.org

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Diabetes Canada
http://www.diabetes.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

A quick summary of the 6 types of necrosis. Pathology Student website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed August 18, 2017.

Clostridial myonecrosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113907/Clostridial-myonecrosis . Updated October 1, 2014. Accessed August 18, 2017.

Gangrene. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed August 18, 2017.

Gangrene. NHS Choices website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated October 13, 2015. Accessed August 18, 2017.

Sepsis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115805/Sepsis-in-adults . Updated July 28, 2017. Accessed August 18, 2017.



Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 9/29/2014

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