Gangrene is the progressive death of body tissue resulting from infection and 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 rare wet type, called gas gangrene or clostridial myonecrosis, develops from specific bacteria deep inside the body. Gas gangrene can be a result of surgery or trauma.
Gangrene is more common in older adults.
Factors that may increase your chance of developing gangrene include:
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
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lightheadedness or fainting, which may be caused by low blood pressure
If the gangrene is widespread, sepsis can occur.
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 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
To help reduce your chance of getting gangrene, take these steps:
- 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.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 08/2015 -
- Update Date: 09/29/2014 -