Gangrene is the death of tissue in part of the body, can be caused by a combination of factors, including severe bacterial infection or inadequate blood flow. It commonly affects the arms, legs, toes, and fingers. However, it can also occur in internal organs like the gallbladder and muscles.
Gangrene is more likely to occur in people who have a condition like diabetes or atherosclerosis, which can harm blood vessels and decrease blood flow.
Antibiotics, oxygen therapy, and surgery to restore blood flow to the affected area and remove dead tissue are possible gangrene treatments. The chances of recovery are improved the earlier gangrene is discovered and treated.
The following signs and symptoms may appear when gangrene affects the skin:
- Variations in skin color, from pale gray to blue, purple, black, bronze, or red.
- The skin appears to be thin, shiny, or hairless
- Cool or cold-feeling skin when touched
- Numbness that comes after an abrupt, intense pain
- A sore with an offensive-smelling discharge
You might also experience a low-grade fever and general malaise if gangrene, such as gas gangrene or internal gangrene, attacks the tissues below the surface of your skin.
Septic shock can happen if the bacteria that caused the gangrene spread throughout the body. Septic shock’s warning signs and symptoms include:
- Fever, despite the fact that some people’s body temperatures may be lower than 98.6 F (37 C)
- Decreased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty of breathing
If you encounter persistent and unexplained chronic pain in any region of your body, it is essential to seek urgent medical attention as gangrene is a potentially hazardous condition. Ensure you promptly contact your doctor if you notice any of the following warning signs and symptoms:
- Persistent fever
- A sore with a foul-smelling discharge
- Persistent changes to the skin, such as coloring, warmth, edema, blisters, or sores.
- Acute pain at the location of a recent injury or operation
- Pale colored skin
- Cold, hard, and numb skin
Among the causes of gangrene are:
- Infection. Gangrene can develop as a result of an untreated bacterial infection.
- Loss of blood supply. Blood is essential for delivering vital oxygen and essential nutrients to the body. Additionally, it plays a crucial role in bolstering the immune system by providing antibodies that combat infections. In the absence of an adequate blood supply, cells are unable to sustain themselves, leading to tissue death.
- Trauma. Open wounds that allow bacteria to enter the body might result from gunshot wounds or crushing injuries sustained in auto accidents. Gangrene may develop if the bacteria infect tissues and are left untreated.
Types of gangrene
- Dry gangrene. Dry, shriveled skin that ranges in color from brown to purplish blue to black indicates this type of gangrene. Dry gangrene may take time to develop. People who have diabetes or blood vessel disease, such as atherosclerosis, are more likely to experience it.
- Wet gangrene. When bacteria infect the tissue, gangrene is described as “wet.” Wet gangrene frequently has swelling, blistering, and a wet look.
After a severe burn, frostbite, or other damage, wet gangrene can form. People with diabetes who unintentionally hurt a toe or foot frequently experience it. Wet gangrene must be treated right once since it spreads swiftly and has the potential to be fatal.
- Gas gangrene. Deep muscle tissue is frequently affected by gas gangrene. Your skin’s outermost layer may first appear normal.
The skin may start out pale and gradually develop gray or purple red as the illness advances. Skin may appear bubbly. The gas contained in the tissue may cause it to crackle when you press on it.
Most frequently, a bacteria called Clostridium perfringens causes gas gangrene. An injury or surgical wound without a blood supply is a breeding ground for bacteria. Toxins produced by the bacterial infection emit gas and kill tissue. Gas gangrene poses a serious threat to life, just like wet gangrene.
- Internal gangrene. Organs like the intestines, gallbladder, or appendix may be affected by internal gangrene. When an internal organ’s blood flow is obstructed, it happens. For instance, it could occur if the intestines protrude through a weak spot in the stomach area’s muscle (hernia) and twist. Internal gangrene, if untreated, can be fatal.
- Fournier’s gangrene. The genital organs are affected by this kind of gangrene. Although it typically affects men, it can also impact women. This kind of gangrene is brought on by an infection in the urinary tract or genital region.
- Meleney’s gangrene. This is an uncommon kind of gangrene. Usually, a surgical complication causes it. Typically, painful skin lesions appear one to two weeks after surgery. Progressive bacterial synergistic gangrene is another name for this illness.
The following factors can make gangrene more likely to occur:
- Smoking. Smokers are more likely to develop gangrene.
- Obesity. The pressure of extra weight on the arteries can decrease blood flow, increase the risk of infection, and hinder the healing of wounds.
- Diabetes. Blood vessels may eventually get harmed by high blood sugar levels. Damage to blood vessels can cause a part of the body’s blood flow to slow down or stop.
- Blood vessel disease. The flow of blood to a specific area of the body can be obstructed by atherosclerosis, which is characterized by the hardening and narrowing of arteries, as well as by the formation of blood clots.
- Severe injury or surgery. Gangrene risk is increased by any condition that damages the skin and underlying tissue, including frostbite. If you have a health issue that affects blood flow to the damaged location, the danger is higher.
- Injections. Rarely have injectable medicines been connected to gangrene-causing bacterial infections.
- Immunosuppression. The body’s capacity to fight off infections can be impacted by chemotherapy, radiation, and several illnesses, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- Complications of COVID-19. A few cases of persons who experienced coagulopathy (blood clotting issues) brought on by COVID-19 and developed dry gangrene in their fingers and toes have been documented. To prove this connection, more investigation is required.