What Is Gangrene and How It Gets Treated?

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Gangrene is a severe medical condition when body tissue dies due to injury, insufficient blood flow, or a bacterial infection. It typically affects fingers, toes, and limbs but can also develop in organs and muscles like the gallbladder. People with underlying medical conditions like diabetes or hardened arteries are more susceptible to developing gangrene. Detecting and treating it quickly can enhance a patient’s health and prevent amputation or even death. Have you ever experienced or known someone who has experienced gangrene? Understanding the symptoms and risk factors is crucial to prevent them from becoming life-threatening. In this blog, we will discuss what gangrene is, its causes, symptoms, and available treatments of gangrene

image 2 Dr Gaurav Gangwani

Types of Gangrene 

There are several types of gangrene, each with its unique symptoms, causes, and treatments. 

Dry Gangrene: Dry gangrene is a type of gangrene that is characterised by the skin becoming dry and shrivelled with a brown or purplish-blue or black appearance. It is typically found in people with vascular disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disease and can affect the hands and feet due to insufficient blood flow to the area. If left untreated, dry gangrene can progres and become infected, developing wet gangrene.

Wet Gangrene: Wet Gangrene is a severe type of gangrene that results from bacterial infection of dead tissues. It typically develops in wounds such as burns, cuts, or trauma with inadequate blood circulation to the affected area. Signs of wet gangrene may include swelling, blistering, and a foul odour from the affected area. You must consider treatment of wet gangrene as soon as possible. 

Gas Gangrene: Gas Gangrene is a type of gangrene that affects the deep muscle tissues, while the skin surface may appear normal in the initial stages. It develops when an infection deep inside the body, often due to trauma, affects muscles and organs. Gas gangrene can be life-threatening, and prompt gangrene medicine & medical attention is necessary to prevent further complications.

Internal Gangrene: Internal Gangrene is a type of gangrene that affects internal organs of the body, typically due to blockage of blood flow to an organ, leading to tissue death. The affected organ may become infected and cause severe pain, fever, and other symptoms. Commonly affected organs include the intestines, appendix, and gallbladder. 

Fournier’s Gangrene: Fournier’s gangrene is an uncommon medical condition that predominantly affects men and is caused by a bacterial infection in the genital area. In severe cases, the infection can enter the bloodstream and cause a potentially life-threatening condition called sepsis.

Meleney’s Gangrene: Meleney’s Gangrene, also called progressive bacterial synergistic gangrene, is usually a post-surgery complication. Those with this type of gangrene may experience agonising skin lesions within one or two weeks of the operation.

Symptoms of Gangrene 

Gangrene is a serious medical condition that can have various symptoms depending on the type and severity of the gangrene. However, some common symptoms of gangrene are:

  • Skin discolouration: The affected area may appear black, blue, purple, or brown.
  • Skin dryness and tightness: The skin becomes dry and shrivelled in dry gangrene.
  • Skin swelling and blisters: Wet gangrene may cause the skin to become swollen and develop blisters.
  • Foul odour: Wet gangrene may produce a foul-smelling odour.
  • Pain: Gangrene can cause pain, especially in the affected area.
  • Fever: If the infection spreads, it can cause fever and chills.
  • Tissue death: In advanced stages of gangrene, the affected tissue may die and turn black.

Common Causes of Gangrene

Infection: Infection is one of the most common causes of gangrene. Bacteria can enter the body through an open wound or a surgical incision and cause an infection. If the infection is left untreated, it can spread to nearby tissues and cause gangrene.

Injury: Any injury that damages blood vessels and reduces blood supply to a certain area can lead to gangrene. This can include burns, combat wounds, and other types of trauma.

Chronic Diseases: Chronic diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and peripheral artery disease can all affect blood vessels and increase the risk of gangrene.

Lack of Blood Supply: Gangrene can also occur when a blood supply is lacking in a specific body area. Various factors, including blood clots, arterial blockages, and other circulatory problems, can cause this.

Trauma: Trauma to a body part, such as a broken bone or a crush injury, can also cause gangrene if it damages blood vessels and reduces blood flow.

Poor Wound Healing: Slow healing of wounds can also lead to gangrene. If a wound does not heal properly, it can become infected, leading to gangrene.

Diseases like diabetes mellitus can affect blood vessels (usually arteries) and increase the risk of gangrene.

Treatment Options for Gangrene 

If caught early, non-invasive treatments such as antibiotics and oxygen therapy can effectively manage the condition and promote the healing of the affected tissue. Antibiotics can help treat any bacterial infections that may be present, while oxygen therapy can increase oxygen delivery to the affected tissue, promoting healing and reducing the risk of infection. Peripheral angiography and angioplasty are treatment options that can help improve blood flow to the affected area, thereby potentially preventing further tissue damage and promoting healing.

Peripheral angiography is a diagnostic procedure that involves using X-ray imaging and a contrast dye to visualise the blood vessels in the affected area. This can help identify any blockages or narrowing in the blood vessels that may be contributing to the reduced blood flow.

Angioplasty is a minimally invasive procedure that involves using a small balloon catheter to widen the narrowed or blocked blood vessels. Once the balloon is inflated, it compresses the plaque or blockage against the vessel walls, increasing the blood flow through the vessel.

By improving blood flow to the gangrenous area through peripheral angiography and angioplasty, the tissue in the affected area may receive adequate oxygen and nutrients to heal. In more severe cases of gangrene, surgical intervention may be necessary to restore blood flow to the affected area or remove dead tissue. 

Wrapping Up 

Now, you are well aware of the meaning and treatment of gangrene, and early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for preventing further complications and potential amputation. However, the non-invasive treatments of gangrene in Mumbai are considered more appropriate rather than moving forward with the surgical procedure. 

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