Gangrene Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment
Gangrene is a serious condition that occurs when a lack of blood flow or a severe bacterial infection causes the death of body tissues. It can affect any part of the body, including muscles and internal organs, but it usually begins in the extremities, including the toes, fingers, and limbs.
Gangrene is a serious condition that can lead to limb amputation and even death. Therefore, urgent medical attention is required to stop the spread of death of body tissue as rapidly as possible.
Types of Gangrene
- Dry gangreneDry gangrene is characterized by dry, wrinkled skin and may be recognised as brown to purplish-blue to black in color. It has a slower onset and is most often associated with arterial disease such as atherosclerosis or diabetes.
- Wet gangreneWet gangrene almost always involves a bacterial infection of the affected tissue. It can develop from a severe burn or trauma where a body part is crushed or compressed. This can quickly cut off the blood supply to the affected area, leading to tissue death and an increased risk of infection.Wet gangrene infection can spread quickly throughout the body and can be fatal, making it a very serious and life-threatening condition if not treated promptly. This is common in diabetics who unknowingly injure their toes or feet.
- Gas gangreneGas gangrene is rare but very dangerous and occurs when an infection develops deep in the body, such as in muscles or organs, usually as a result of trauma.It is caused by infection with the bacterium clostridium perfringens, which produces a toxin that releases gas. It develops with an injury or surgical wound that bleeds. Gas gangrene can also be life-threatening.
- Internal gangreneInternal gangrene affects one or more organs, such as the intestines, gallbladder or appendix. This type occurs when blood flow to internal organs is blocked.For example, when the intestines protrude into the abdomen through areas of weakened and twisted muscles.
- Fournier’s gangreneThis type of gangrene usually occurs due to an infection in the genitals or urinary tract. It is more common in men but can also affect women.
Symptoms of Gangrene
If the skin is affected or the gangrene is close to the skin, symptoms may include
- Changes in skin color or skin discoloration.
- Skin that feels cold or cold skin.
- Swelling and pain at the site of infection.
- Foul smelling pus leaking from blisters.
- Glossy skin.
- A pop-up sound that comes from the affected area when pressed.
If a bacterial infection originating in gangrenes tissue spreads throughout the body, in some cases, it can cause septic shock. Symptoms of septic shock includes-
- Low blood pressure.
- Shortness of breath.
- Rapid heart rate.
Causes of Gangrene
Gangrene may occur due to-
- Lack of blood supply.
Risk factors of Gangrene
Risk factors may include
- Blood vessel disease.
- Severe injury.
- Having HIV.
Diagnosis of Gangrene
To make a diagnosis, the doctor will perform the following tests-
- Blood tests to detect certain bacteria or other germs. Abnormally high white blood cells count usually indicates an infection.
- Imaging tests include computed tomography (CT) scan, X-ray or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to look at body structures, such as internal organs, blood vessels, or bones, and to check how much the gangrene has spread.
- Fluid or tissue culture to examine for the bacterium clostridium perfringens.
- In some cases, surgery may be performed to check the extent of spread.
Treatment for Gangrene
Treatment options may depend on the severity of the gangrene. Tissue damaged by gangrene usually cannot be saved, but steps can be taken to slow the progression of your condition. These include-
- Antibiotics are given intravenously or taken orally.
- Surgery to remove dead tissue, which stops gangrene from spreading and allows healthy tissue to heal.
- Skin grafts can be used to repair skin damage caused by gangrene. This can happen when the damaged skin is supplied with sufficient blood again.
- In severe cases, amputation of the affected body part may be necessary.
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be used. In this type of treatment, you are placed in a specially constructed chamber filled with oxygen at a higher pressure than the outside air. The theory is that blood is rich in oxygen, which slows the growth of bacteria and helps infected wounds to heal faster.
When to see a doctor?
To stop the spread of tissue death as quickly as possible, gangrene requires urgent medical attention.