(Dry Gangrene; Gas Gangrene; Organ or Tissue Death; Wet Gangrene)
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 caused by infection or a reduced blood supply to tissues.
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.
Gangrene of the Foot
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.
American Diabetes Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Diabetes Association
A quick summary of the 6 types of necrosis. Pathology Student website. Available at: http://www.pathologystudent.com/?p=5770. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Clostridial myonecrosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 1, 2014. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Fujiwara Y, Kishida K, Terao M, et al. Beneficial effects of foot care nursing for people with diabetes mellitus: an uncontrolled before and after intervention study. J Adv Nurs. 2011;67(9):1952-1962.
Gangrene. NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Gangrene/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Updated January 27, 2014. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Sepsis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 25, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.