Any body part which is devoid of blood supply may die, and eventually result in gangrene. Gangrene affects the organs that are distant from the heart, which includes toes and fingers. It can affect many other body parts as well, including the vital internal organs. It is considered to be a medical emergency because it may lead to amputations and death.

If gangrene is left untreated it can cause shock. It can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Early recognition and treatment help to reduce complications.

Types of gangrene

Dry gangrene: Dry gangrene is caused when your body part does not get sufficient oxygen, this makes the part deteriorate and finally die. Dry gangrene does not have chances of infection.

Wet gangrene: When bacteria invade the organ, wet gangrene occurs; there can be moisture due to the presence of bacteria which makes the tissue die. Wet gangrene is considered more serious than dry gangrene because of chances of spreading the infection to other parts of the body.

Shortness of breath, feeling of vomiting, and a sudden episode of heavy cold sweating are the other coronary artery disease symptoms.

Gas gangrene: Clostridium perfringenis bacterium is the main cause of gas gangrene. The bacteria cause gas bubbles and toxins inside the affected area and the toxic gasses cause tissue death. This is a fatal type of gangrene.

The following conditions are the risk factors and can cause gangrene

  • Habits such as smoking
  • Infection to the wounds
  • Conditions such as obesity
  • Certain drugs such as warfarin
  • Diseases such as Raynaud’s syndrome, and diabetes
  • Injuries such as crash injury, frostbite or severe burns
  • Certain diseases that affect blood circulation (arteriosclerosis

The signs and the symptoms of gangrene may include:

  • Discoloration of skin
  • Foul smelling discharge from the sores
  • Partition between healthy and a damaged skin

If the gangrene affects your internal organs, then you are likely to experience the following symptoms:

  • High body temperature
  • Swelling and pain near the site

If there is any bacterial infection near the gangrenous tissue, you may experience shock; the signs and symptoms of shock include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty in breathing

Notify your doctor immediately when you experience symptoms such as persistent fever, skin discoloration, numbness or hard feeling near the skin, sudden, sharp pain at the surgery or trauma site.

Gangrene is a medical emergency if the gangrene is infected with bacteria. The bacterial infection spreads to other organs and can cause serious complications if left untreated.

Gangrene may lead to scarring and may require the need for reconstructive surgery. At times when the tissue death (necrosis) occurs, the body part such as foot may need amputation.

Your doctor may order for a routine blood test to evaluate your white blood cells (WBC), if the WBC is found elevated, it indicates the presence of infection.

Your doctor would order for imaging tests such as X-ray, (CT) computerized tomography scans or (MRI) magnetic resonance imaging scan to view the interior body structures and to analyze the severity of gangrene.

Your doctor may order for an angiogram to view your arteries, this test helps to evaluate the presence of any blockage in your arteries.

Your doctor may order for tissue culture, this involves the extraction of fluid from the blister present on your skin and is then examined for the presence of Clostridium perfringens.

The treatment for gangrene depends upon the type and severity of gangrene. Your doctor would choose the best treatment strategy for you; the main goal of the treatment is to prevent further complications such as amputation. The following treatment options are considered:

An intravenous antibiotic- if there is any evidence of bacterial infection

Vascular surgery, if you have improper blood flow due to the blocks in the arteries. This surgery helps in improving the blood flow through the veins to the tissues.

Hyperbaric oxygen chamber- this is considered if the type of gangrene is gas gangrene. It helps in halting or slowing down the bacterial growth due to the presence of oxygen rich environment. This fastens the tissue healing and also provides oxygen supply to the damaged tissue and promotes healing.

Tissue debridement- to remove the dead tissue. It is performed with surgical tools and chemicals. The benefit of this treatment option is that it removes the infected tissue and prevents further spread.

Skin graft- to replace your damaged tissue in the case of severe gangrene. In many cases, amputation of the affected limbs such as, toe, and the finger is necessary. In essential cases, the parts may be fitted with a prosthesis, or with artificial limbs to replace the removed body part.