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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 breakdown and die. Although gangrene often turns the affected skin a greenish-black color, the word gangreneis not related to green, but rather to the condition itself. It comes from Greek and Latin words for a gnawing sore or decayed tissue.
Gangrene happens when blood supply to certain tissues is stopped due to an infection, an injury such as a burn or combat wound, or a chronic disease. 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 of frostbite can also lead to gangrene. Frostbite is a condition in which the skin freezes.
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 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 medical team will perform 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 related to the gangrene.
Your health care 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 health care provider may take samples of tissue or fluid from the affected area and look at in the lab. If your health care provider suspects internal gangrene, he or she may order imaging tests or surgery to find out for sure.
Specific treatment for gangrene will be determined by your health care provider based on the following:
Treatment of gangrene will usually consist of one 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. In addition, people with certain conditions that can affect blood circulation (such as diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, Reynaud’s disease), should follow their health care provider’s instructions on managing their 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 attention is crucial.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.