A necrotizing soft tissue infection is a serious, life-threatening condition that requires immediate treatment to keep it from destroying skin, muscle, and other soft tissues. The word necrotizing comes from the Greek word "nekros", which means "corpse" or "dead". A necrotizing infection causes patches of tissue to die.
These infections are the result of bacteria invading the skin or the tissues under the skin. If untreated, they can cause death in a matter of hours.
Fortunately, such infections are very rare. They can quickly spread from the original infection site, so it's important to know the symptoms.
The bacteria that cause necrotizing soft tissue infections are usually introduced when a small cut or scrape becomes contaminated with soil or saliva so anyone can be infected. Those at greater risk are those with an open wound, even a small cut, especially if it has been in contact with dirt or bacteria in the mouth. Other risk factors include having peripheral artery disease, diabetes, obesity, and lifestyle habits such as heavy alcohol use and injection drug use.
These are the most common symptoms of a necrotizing soft tissue infection. See your healthcare provider right away for any of these symptoms:
People with some of these symptoms are surprised to learn that they have a necrotizing soft tissue infection because it did not seem to be especially severe at first. But these infections can progress rapidly if they are not aggressively treated. If you have a skin infection with a warm, red area, you should use a marker or pen and outline the red area so that you and the healthcare provider can see how far and how quickly it spreads outside the line.
The symptoms of a necrotizing soft tissue infection may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
If you've developed a necrotizing soft tissue infection as a result of surgery, it may be slower moving and your skin at the wound site may even look normal at first.
Because your healthcare provider may not be able to tell how far the infection has spread with only a physical exam, he or she might order tests to get more information. These could include:
Your medical team will check test results for unsuspected organisms and also for bacteria that are hard to treat with the usual antibiotics, which may prompt a change in medicine.
A necrotizing soft tissue infection can destroy skin, muscle, and other soft tissues, and, if untreated, lead to death.
Your best approach to necrotizing soft tissue infections is to do your best to avoid them. To help prevent these infections:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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