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Nasty Infectious Diseases You Want To Avoid - Gangrene

Updated on December 31, 2008


This term is for the death of tissue generally associated with loss of blood supply, followed by bacterial invasion and putrefaction or the rotting away of the specific tissues. It may affect either a fairly small area of skin or an entire limb. It can also occur in the intestines or gallbladder. Internally, gangrene may be a complication of strangulated hernia, appendicitis, or cholecystitis, or impaired blood supply, although there are other varied causes.


Cause - In dry gangrene, an area of the skin dies because of blocked blood supply, without bacterial infection; this type does not spread to other tissue. It may be caused by arteriosclerosis, diabetes mellitus, a stroke, blood clot, or frostbite. Wet (or moist) gangrene follows bacterial infection of dry gangrene or the obstruction of blood flow following a wound. This form of gangrene has an offensive odor, spreads rapidly, and may be fatal in a few days. Gas gangrene is a particularly virulent form of wet gangrene caused by a deadly type of bacteria (such as various species of Clostridium, particularly C. perfringens) that destroy muscle while producing a foul odor. Gas gangrene is responsible for millions of deaths during war and is also known as anaerobic myositis and necrotizing fasciitis or flesh-eating bacteria.


Symptoms - Pain in the dying skin tissue that becomes numb and black once the tissue dies. If bacterial infection occurs, the gangrene will spread, giving off a noxious odor with redness, swelling, and oozing pus around the blackened area. Gas gangrene causes pain, swelling, and tenderness of the wound area, with moderate fever, rapid heartbeat, and low blood pressure. The skin around the wound begins to die and rupture, revealing muscle. The patient may also experience toxic delirium. Untreated, gas gangrene is usually fatal.


Treatment - In all types of gangrene, surgical debridement is necessary to remove the dead tissue before healing can begin. Improving circulation to the affected area can improve dry gangrene if it is begun early enough. Once the tissue becomes infected, antibiotics are given to prevent the spread of infection. Once wet gangrene is diagnosed, amputation of the affected part is required, along with neighboring healthy tissue, in order to save the patient. The amount of tissue which is removed can in some cases be extreme.


Prevention - Gangrene of an extremity with no blood supply (such as vascular disease of toes and feet) can't be prevented once the tissue has lost its oxygen supply. It is not possible to restore the oxygen supply to tissue which has suffered damage to that extent but if possible, wound gangrene is best avoided by meticulous wound care, removal of dead tissue, and maintaining blood supply and cleanliness. Gangrene is a natural process that occurs in the presence of dead tissue; therefore, removing dead tissue helps prevent gangrene. It can be quickly fatal in certain conditions where the infection itself corrodes and destroys healthy skin in a rapid, catastrophic way. Emergency surgery to remove all of the affected tissue must be done to save the patient's life. This surgery is often radical and deforming.


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