What is Gangrene?
Gangrene is a condition in which the tissue in a part of the body dies because of not getting enough blood from the circulatory system. The condition usually affects the extremities, or the areas farthest from the heart, like the fingers and toes, but it can affect other parts of the body as well including the internal organs.
Gangrene usually starts in a specific body part like the hand, leg, or an internal organ, and spreads through the body. It can cause the patient to go into shock if left untreated, which can be life-threatening and is considered a medical emergency.
Gangrene can lead to amputations or death and is a medical emergency.
Types of gangrene include:
- Dry gangrene
- Wet gangrene
- Gas gangrene
Usually, the first sign of dry gangrene is the development of a reddish line around the affected tissue which may later turn black.
Other external gangrene symptoms include:
- A wound which is red, sore, or swollen
- A wound filled with pus or giving out a bad smell
- An isolated area of the body feeling cold
- Lacking a sense of touch in an isolated area
- Recurring sores in the same place on the body
- Part of the skin turning an unusual color like greenish-black, red, blue, or bronze
Signs and symptoms of gangrene that is internal may not appear on the skin or limbs. They include:
- Unexplained fever lasting a long time
- Low blood pressure
Who is at risk?
Risk factors of gangrene include a history of medical conditions like:
- Arteriosclerosis in the legs and arms
- Raynaud’s disease
- Blood clots
Other physical events that make a person more likely to develop gangrene include having:
- a recent surgery
- lowered immunity
- suffered a head injury, frostbite, animal bite, or serious burn
- been hurt in a traumatic manner including crushing of tissues
- an injection of promethazine hydrochloride that led to tissue damage
Causes of gangrene include:
- Lack of blood supply: it is one of the major reasons for gangrene. Without a proper supply of blood to a tissue, the cells cannot survive. This causes the tissue to decay and eventually, die.
- Infection: In cases where the bacteria thrive unchecked for a long time, the infection can take over and lead the tissue to die, causing gangrene.
- Trauma: traumatic wounds, like gunshot wounds, crushing injuries from car crashes, etc., can cause bacteria to invade and infect the tissues deep within the body, causing gangrene.
How is gangrene diagnosed?
A doctor may begin diagnosis for gangrene by carrying out a physical examination and taking a medical history to look for symptoms and potential exposure to an infection or trauma. They may look for signs of shock.
If gangrene is suspected, the doctor may order further gangrene test to determine the type and extent of gangrene. These may include:
- An X-ray
- MRI and CT scans
A gangrene doctor may further ask for tests of tissue, blood, and any discharge to identify any bacterial infection.
A small scraping of tissue from the affected body part may be examined under the microscope.
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How is gangrene treated?
Gangrene treatment depends upon location, type, and extent of the diseased tissue.
Any case with suspected symptoms of gangrene needs immediate medical attention to evade the risk of serious complications or death. Gas gangrene is the most severe form and is fatal without treatment.
Gangrene cure options include:
- Gangrene medicine such as intravenous antibiotics
- Vascular surgery to improve the flow of blood through veins to the body tissues
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy to slow the growth of bacteria and promote healing
- Tissue debridement to remove the body of dead tissue and prevent the spread of infection
- Gangrene surgery such as amputation of a limb, toe, or finger in severe cases
How can gangrene be prevented?
Gangrene prevention in people who have diabetes or a blood vessel disease can be done by checking their hands and feet regularly for gangrene symptoms. They should keep an eye out for:
- Any redness, swelling, or discharge that may indicate infection
- A wound that isn’t healing
- A change in the color of the skin
Taking antibiotics before or after having surgery, under the care of a doctor, helps in the prevention of gangrene.