Gangrene is a dangerous and potentially fatal condition that happens when the blood flow to a large area of tissue is cut off. This causes the tissue to break down and die. Gangrene often turns the affected skin a greenish-black color. However, the word gangrene is not related to the color green, but to the condition itself. It comes from Greek and Latin words for a gnawing sore or decayed tissue.
Gangrene comes in 2 forms, dry and wet:
Gangrene happens when blood supply to certain tissues is stopped. This can happen due to:
Chronic diseases that harm the circulatory system include diabetes, peripheral artery disease, and Raynaud's disease. These can often lead to gangrene. Traumatic injuries like burns or an infected dog bite may also stop blood flow. Severe cases where the skin freezes (frostbite) can also lead to gangrene.
People with diabetes, peripheral artery disease, and Raynaud’s disease are at higher risk for gangrene. Skin infections, injuries, burns, dog bites, and frostbite also put people at risk for gangrene.
Symptoms of gangrene depend on its location and cause. Dry gangrene usually starts with a red line around the affected area. This area then turns dry and black.
These are other symptoms of gangrene:
The earlier gangrene is treated, the more successful the treatment is likely to be. So if you have any of the above symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
If you have symptoms of gangrene, your healthcare team will give you a physical exam to check for signs of tissue death. They may also ask you about any chronic health conditions you have that could be linked to the gangrene.
Your healthcare provider may also want to do lab tests to check for gangrene. A higher than normal amount of white blood cells, for example, can mean you have an infection. Your healthcare provider may take samples of tissue or fluid from the affected area and look at in the lab. If your healthcare provider thinks you may have internal gangrene, he or she may order imaging tests or surgery to find out for sure.
Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment plan for you based on:
Treatment of gangrene will usually consist of 1 or more of these procedures:
Because gangrene can spread rapidly over a large area of the body, the amount of dead tissue can be quite large. Treating these large areas may result in:
Severe cases of gangrene may lead to organ failure and even death.
You can help prevent gangrene by carefully watching any wounds you have and getting immediate attention if signs of infection develop. If you have certain conditions that can affect blood circulation (such as diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, Raynaud’s disease), follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on managing your condition very carefully.
Gangrene is a medical emergency. The outlook with gangrene depends on the location and size of the affected area, as well as any other medical conditions you might have. Gangrene is often life-threatening, so immediate medical care is crucial.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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