Gangrene- Meaning, Symptoms, Types, Diagnosis and Treatment Meaning

February 2021

Gangrene is a condition that affects the extremities, such as toes and fingers. It refers to the death of tissues in these parts. The death of the tissue happens because there is not enough blood circulation. Gangrene usually happens to parts that are farthest from the heart. However, it can originate in a specific body part such as a leg or hand or any other internal organ and spread to other parts. It can cause shock, which can be life-threatening and manifest in low blood pressure symptoms when left untreated.

Causes and Symptoms of Gangrene

 Causes of gangrene include lack of proper blood supply that leads to death of tissues, an untreated bacterial infection or traumatic injury like a gunshot, car accident. It causes open wounds with bacteria that infect tissues and is left untreated for a long time.

 The symptoms to recognize external gangrene include

  • Discoloration of the skin around the affected tissue. It might be reddish or black.

  • A wound that smells bad and is filled with pus

  • A wound that is swollen, sore, and reddish

  • A part of your body feels cold.

  • Sores that recur in the same place

  • The unusual color of the skin ranges from black, red, bronze, or blue.

  • Thin skin that is shiny and devoid of hair

  • Blisters

  • Severe pain followed by numbness.

The symptoms of internal gangrene include

 Internal gangrene that affects the inner tissues or organs might not manifest in the extremities. It would be characterized by septic shock, the signs and symptoms of which include

  • Pain

  • Low blood pressure

  • Unexplained fever that lasts for a long period

  • High Heart rate

  • Lightheadedness

  • Confusion

  • Shortness of breath

Types of gangrene

  • Dry gangrene- It develops slowly and is characterized by dry and shriveled skin. The skin would be brown, black, or purplish-blue. It is common in people with diabetes or atherosclerosis.

  •  Wet gangrene- this type of gangrene spreads quickly and is deadly. It has to be treated immediately. This type of gangrene is characterized by dead tissue with a bacterial infection. Blisters, swelling, and wet appearance are the characteristic features of this type of gangrene—diabetic persons who have injured a foot or toe.

  •  Gas Gangrene- This type of gangrene is caused by a bacteria called clostridia. This bacterial infection is characterized by gas bubbles and toxins that build up in the affected area. The gases and toxins cause tissue death. This type of gangrene can be fatal.

Diagnosis of gangrene

 Medical history and symptoms are assessed—additional diagnostic procedures such as blood tests, medical imaging, and tissue samples analysis.


 In severe cases, amputation of a limb, finger, or toe is the only option to save a life. The patients may then use a prosthesis or artificial limb for replacement. However, the treatment process includes administering antibiotics intravenously. Vascular surgery can be an option to improve blood circulation. Placing the person in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber is an ideal way to treat gas gangrene. Debridement using surgical tools or chemicals to remove the affected tissue or body part is another treatment procedure to manage gangrene.

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