When there is loss of blood supply due to illness, infection or injury, and body tissue dies, the condition is known as gangrene. Gangrene affects mainly fingers, toes and limbs but can also damage our internal organs and muscles. There are different types of gangrene, but they are all serious and require emergency medical care.
The Types of Gangrene
Gangrene is classified in 2 main categories
- Dry Gangrene
- Wet Gangrene
Wet gangrene can be further classified into
- Internal Gangrene – this is inside the body caused by blocked blood flow to internal organs. This can be due to an infection of, for example, the colon or appendix.
- Gas Gangrene – this rare but very dangerous gangrene, is due to an infection, of muscles and organs deep in the body, usually as a result of trauma. The bacteria Clostridia releases very dangerous toxins and gas killing the tissue in the area. Patient’s skin becomes pale then gray, the patient is in severe pain and a crackling sound is heard when one presses on the area. Death can occur within 48 hours, so emergency medical intervention is always required.
Fournier’s gangrene is a very rare type of gangrene that affects the genital area, mainly in men. What starts as an infection leads to sepsis then becomes life threatening. Immediate surgical and medical attention is needed and advanced wound care will be required in these cases.
The Causes of Wet and Dry Gangrene
There are major differences between these two types of gangrene, and this is due to the initial cause of the condition.
- Dry gangrene is common in people who already have blood vessel diseases such as diabetes, arteriosclerosis, peripheral artery disease and auto immune diseases. It can also occur in obese people and heavy smokers. It occurs mainly on the hands and feet as a result of poor circulation to the area. The digit or limb will first turn brown, then purple, after which it may turn black and fall off. There usually is no sign of infection but can lead to wet gangrene if infection sets in.
- Wet gangrene is due to infection in an area that is deprived of blood flow. This can happen in the case of burns, trauma or body part crushing injuries. The tissue that does not receive blood and oxygen dies, and there is then an increased risk of infection causing wet gangrene. The tissue blisters, swells and forms pus. This spreads very quickly and is potentially life threatening.
The Signs and Symptoms of Gangrene
Depending on the cause of injury, the symptoms may differ. There are, however, warning signs that you need to be aware of, and they should prompt you to seek immediate medical attention.
- Wet Gangrene – Swelling and pain at site when pressed. Blisters and sores produce a foul smelling drainage. You may also be complaining of dizziness, loss of appetite, rapid heart rate and breathing, feeling hot and shivery and have a temperature of above 38 Degrees Celsius. Untreated, symptoms can worsen and lead to vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty in breathing and a change in mental state i.e.: confusion or disorientation. The skin will then feel cold and clammy. Get help fast, you could be heading for septic shock.
- Dry Gangrene – You could have pain or no pain at all. The affected skin becomes cold and numb, then dry and shriveled, turning purple before turning black.
Wound Care Treatment For Gangrene
After your doctor has made the diagnosis of gangrene by blood tests, imaging (x-ray, CT scan or MRI), surgery or fluid / tissue culture, he will recommend one or a combination of, the following methods of treatment.
- Surgery – This involves the removal of dead tissue to allow remaining tissue to heal. Damaged or diseased blood vessels are repaired restoring blood flow to the affected area. In some cases, they may have to remove the affected toe, finger or limb and use skin grafts to repair the areas.
- HBOT – Receiving 100% oxygen at an increased pressure for a prescribed period of time, allows the blood to carry more oxygen to the affected area. This increased oxygen encourages wound healing and slows the growth of bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen. The increased Oxygen levels also helps white blood cells in the blood to fight bacteria/infections more efficiently.
- Supportive Care – You will be given medication for pain relief, encouraged to increase your fluid intake and given a proper meal plan that will support and encourage the healing process.
Tissue affected by gangrene is dead and cannot never be saved, but early intervention can prevent progression and further damage. The sooner you seek medical attention, the better the outcome. Gangrene is always a medical emergency. Contact us at RegenQuest to receive prompt, expert medical treatment that could save not only your limb, but your life.