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 2 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.
Other factors that may increase your chance of 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 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.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 08/2015 -
- Update Date: 09/29/2014 -