Gangrene is when part of your body tissue dies. This often occurs
because the tissue is not getting enough blood from your circulatory system.
Gangrene usually affects your extremities — the areas
farthest from your heart — such as your toes and fingers. However, it can
affect other parts of our body as well. Gangrene can even affect your internal
The condition typically starts in a specific body part, such
as a leg, hand, or internal organ. Gangrene can spread through your body and
cause you to go into shock if left untreated. Shock is a condition marked by a
variety of symptoms including low blood pressure. Shock can be life threatening
and is considered a medical emergency.
Gangrene is a medical emergency that could lead to
amputations and or death. Recognizing and treating the condition as fast as
possible will improve your outlook.
All of your body organs (such as your liver, heart, muscles)
need oxygen to function properly and survive. The oxygen is carried to
different parts of your body by your blood. Dry gangrene is caused when one of
your body parts isn’t getting enough oxygen. Eventually, the body part will start to deteriorate and
die. With dry gangrene, the skin is closed and there is no evidence of
Wet gangrene happens when your body tissues become infected
with some type of bacteria. The tissues react to the presence of the bacteria
by growing moist and breaking down. This process causes the death of your
tissues. This is more of an emergency than dry gangrene because of the possibility
of infection spreading to other parts of the body.
Bacteria called Clostridia cause gas gangrene. This
bacterium creates an infection that causes gas bubbles and toxins to develop
inside the affected area. The resulting gases cause tissue death. This type of
gangrene is rare in the United States. This type of gangrene can be fatal.
Is at Risk for Developing Gangrene?
You are more likely to develop gangrene if you have a
history of certain medical conditions, including:
- arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in
your legs or arms
- Raynaud’s disease
- blood clots
Some other physical events could increase your risk of
gangrene. You may be more likely to develop this condition if you:
- have lowered immunity because of a medical
condition or cancer treatment
- have recently had surgery
- have suffered a head injury, an animal bite, a
serious burn, or severe frostbite
- have been hurt in a traumatic way that includes
the crushing of body tissues
- have had an injection of promethazine
hydrochloride that led to tissue damage
- Smoking, drinking alcohol, and intravenous drug
use may also add to your risk of developing gangrene.
the Signs of Gangrene
Sometimes the first sign of dry gangrene is a reddish line that
develops around the affected tissue. This line may later turn black.
Other signs that might indicate you have gangrene include:
- a wound that is red, sore, or swollen
- a wound that is filled with pus or gives off a
- an isolated area of your body feels cold
- lacking a sense of touch in an isolated area
- sores that keep coming back in the same place on
- part of your skin has turned an unusual color (greenish-black,
red, blue, or bronze)
It is also possible to experience internal gangrene, which
affects your inner tissues or organs. In this case, you may not have any
symptoms on your skin or limbs. However, you may have pain or an unexplained
fever that lasts a long time or low blood pressure. You may also experience
Is Gangrene Diagnosed?
Your doctor may suspect that you have gangrene based on your
medical history and symptoms. They may also use a combination of additional
diagnostic methods to determine your condition.
Lab Analysis of Tissue or Fluid Samples
A scraping of tissue from your affected body part may be
examined with a microscope to look for dead cells.
An abnormally high white blood cell count can indicate a
Some kinds of imaging are helpful in diagnosing the spread
of gangrene in your internal tissues. These tests could include X-rays, MRI
scans, or CT scans.
An anarteriogram test
may be performed if doctors suspect that your gangrene is related to
a circulatory problem. This test uses X-rays to monitor the flow of a special
dye through your arteries, showing whether any arteries are blocked.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if bacteria are
present. These are typically given intravenously, or through a needle directly
into the blood stream.
For people with poor circulation that results in gangrene,
vascular surgery (surgery on the arteries or veins) may be recommended in order
to improve the flow of blood through the veins to body tissues.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber
Placing a person with gas gangrene in a special oxygen-rich
environment can slow the growth of bacteria. This allows the skin to begin
healing. It also brings oxygen to the damaged tissue to promote healing.
In serious gangrene cases, the dead tissue or body part may
need to be removed. This process is called debridement. Debridement can be done
with surgery tools or with chemicals. The goal with this type of surgery is to
remove the affected areas so the infection can no longer spread and to rid the
body of the dead tissue.
One alternative form of debridement, known as maggot
debridement, uses fly larvae to eat away bacteria and dead tissue. Though rare,
this practice can still be used by physicians in the United States and abroad.
Doctors are sometimes able to restore the flow of oxygen to
the affected area. Skin grafts can repair any damaged tissue. This procedure
uses a piece of your healthy skin from elsewhere on the body to cover the
For severe cases, amputation of a limb, finger, or toe could
be necessary to save your life. People who must have part of an arm or leg
amputated due to gangrene may be fitted with a prosthesis, or artificial limb,
to replace the missing body part.
Is the Long-Term Outlook for Gangrene?
Gangrene can sometimes be treated without serious
complications, especially if it is caught early.
However, it can lead to amputation in some serious cases,
particularly if it is not treated quickly.
Gangrene can even be fatal for some individuals. This is
rare, but it can occur if:
- you have other serious medical issues that
complicate your treatment
- the gangrenous area covers a large area of your
- treatment is not provided quickly enough
to Prevent Gangrene
To keep tissues from dying, gangrene must be treated early,
so that the damage can be reversed. People who have diabetes or a blood vessel
disease should regularly check their hands and feet for gangrene symptoms. Watch
- any swelling, discharge, or redness that may
- a wound does not seem to get better
- a change in the color of your skin
Taking antibiotics before or after having surgery, under the
care of your doctor may help you to prevent the development of gangrenous