Gangrene is the death of living cells or tissues of the body.
Gangrene occurs when the blood supply to part of the body is cut off. This depletes the tissues of oxygen and they begin to die. Gangrene usually affects the extremities, such as the toes, feet, legs, fingers, hands, and arms. It may also occur in other parts of the body, including the abdomen or intestines. Gangrene usually occurs after trauma or surgery. Usually gangrene begins 24 hours to 3 days after trauma but may occur anywhere from 3 hours to 6 weeks later. As the tissue begins to die, carbon monoxide and hydrogen gases are released, causing bubbling around the tissue.
There are two types of gangrene:
Causes of gangrene include:
Symptoms of gangrene may include:
The healthcare provider will start to diagnose gangrene based on a person's medical history and physical exam. Other special tests and scans may be ordered including:
A person may be able to prevent gangrene in some instances by:
Long term effects of gangrene may include:
Gangrene poses no risk to others.
Gangrene must be treated right away. If the tissues or muscles show any signs of swelling, intravenous antibiotics will be needed to treat the infection. Blood thinners to prevent blood clots may also be prescribed. Pain medications are prescribed to treat discomfort.
A person may need to be in the hospital to receive intravenous antibiotics, intravenous fluids, and monitoring of the gangrene. Bed rest is essential in early stages of treatment. Often the affected tissues, organ, or limbs must be amputated so that infection doesn't spread. Physical therapy may also be needed, especially if amputation occurred.
Side effects depend on the treatments used. For instance, antibiotics may cause allergic reactions and stomach upset. Surgery carries a risk of bleeding, infection, and allergic reactions to anesthesia.
Sometimes no further treatment is needed once the cause of the gangrene is identified and corrected. For more serious disease or injury, treatment may continue and a person may have further instructions to follow. If a person had surgery, he or she may need to take it easy for several days to several weeks and need follow up care. Physical therapy and daily strengthening exercises may be needed.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
Author:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
Editor:Smith, Elizabeth, BA
Reviewer:Melissa Sanders, PharmD
Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 1998, Fauci et al.
Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness, and Surgery, H. Griffith, M.D., 2000
Professional Guide to Diseases, Brian Burlew, et al, 1995