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What Is Gangrene? Main Causes And Symptoms

Updated on May 22, 2013
Clostridium Perfringens - gas gangrene.
Clostridium Perfringens - gas gangrene. | Source


Many people have heard of gangrene. However, it's interesting to note that this condition is still associated with old fashioned medical practices and war wounds from the past. This is certainly a true picture and gangrene took many lives , but it's still present today.

There are a number of causes and different forms of gangrene and this article will explain what they are and the symptoms.

The dominant life form on the planet are bacteria

What is gangrene?

Basically gangrene is caused by a bacteria. The most common species to cause the condition is Clostridium perfringens . However other bacteria that may cause gangrene to develop are - Staphylococcus aureus and Vibrio vulnificus. However the group of bacteria called clostridium are the most common. The main reason for this is that this group of bacteria are found everywhere in nature - including inside the human body. In addition,clostridium can survive in spore form for long periods of time and as spores can stand heat and disinfectants.

These bacteria develop rapidly in areas of the body where there is a loss of blood supply. This is because these types of bacteria thrive in areas where there little or no oxygen. They are referred to as anaerobic organisms which means living without oxygen. Areas of the body where there is damaged tissue due to an operation, injury, infection or other medical causes provide a good environment for these bacteria to grow.

Once the bacteria start to thrive they produce toxins that destroy cells and tissues. Some forms of gangrene can spread to other areas of the body.

Types of gangrene

There are two main types of gangrene:

  • Dry gangrene - this is usually caused by long term medical conditions that reduce the circulation of blood especially to the feet and toes. Conditions that may lead to dry gangrene include - diabetes types 1 and 2, atherosclerosis, peripheral arterial disease.

  • Wet gangrene - this form of gangrene occurs when there is a serious trauma to body tissues such as from an injury, frostbite or burn. Rarely, people who are at high risk, may develop gangrene after surgical operations. Wet gangrene spreads much faster than the dry form, leading to serious complications such as septic shock.

In addition more rare forms are:

  • Gas Gangrene/Internal Gangrene - more rarely gangrene may develop inside the body as a result of infection.

  • Severe skin infections such as necrotising fasciitis can also lead to gangrene. This is because with necrotising fasciitis there is death of the tissues that gives gangrene an environment in which it can develop.

There are a number of signs and symptoms of gangrene and to finish off the article we'll briefly go over these in the last section.

Second degree frostbite - this won't usually develop gangrene as long as exposure to the cold and further tissue damage does not occur.
Second degree frostbite - this won't usually develop gangrene as long as exposure to the cold and further tissue damage does not occur. | Source

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Signs and symptoms of gangrene

The most common areas of the body to be affected by gangrene are the extremities such as toes and fingers. This is generally because any loss of circulation will affect these parts of the body first, being furthest away from the heart. In addition, the signs and symptoms of gangrene will depend on whether a person has 'dry' or 'wet' gangrene.

Signs and symptoms of 'dry' gangrene:

Dry gangrene is the most common form of this condition and usually develops due to an existing medical condition such as diabetes that can cause interruption of blood flow into body tissues. People will most frequently experience:

  1. Redness in the body part affected - for example one of the toes.
  2. The area then looses the red colour, becoming numb as well as pale. Some people will experience pain.
  3. The affected area also feels very cold to the touch.
  4. If treatment is not given then the area will continue to deteriorate. The colour of the area will turn to brown and then to black. The tissues continue to shrivel and then fall away from the healthy areas.

If you are worried that your circulation is not particularly good, especially in the feet, then have a check up with your doctor.

Signs and symptoms of 'wet' gangrene:

This type of gangrene as we have mentioned before is usually caused by some form of injury causing serious wounds, frostbite, burns and so on. People will generally experience:

  1. The affected area will begin to swell and become very red.
  2. Normally there is severe pain in the affected area.
  3. There is frequently a large volume of pus discharging from the area that smells putrid.
  4. The area will eventually turn a brown colour and finally to black.

People who have developed 'wet' gangrene will also have other symptoms that are common with any kind of infection, such as:

  1. High temperature
  2. Rapid, shallow breathing
  3. Shivering
  4. Loss of appetite
  5. Lightheaded due to the drop in blood pressure

When gangrene has developed due to a serious skin infection, the symptoms are similar to those of 'wet' gangrene. In addition to severe pain, the area of skin will develop blisters as well as changing colour from red, brown to black. People may also experience diarrhoea and vomiting as the toxins from the infection start to affect the systems of the body.

When gangrene is of the type that is called gas gangrene or internal gangrene the area will feel very heavy and the person experiences severe pain. In the majority of cases of gas gangrene, when the area affected is pressed, a crackling sound is often heard. This is due to a build up of gases under the skin and where the condition 'gas' gangrene gets its name from.

As always I hope you have found this hub useful and remember that this is for information only and not to be used instead of seeing a doctor.

© 2013 Helen Murphy Howell


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  • Frank Atanacio profile image

    Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

    I always thought Ganggreen was the New York Jets.. kidding but I really never thought about gangrene, and I thought it was a virus.. a bacteria hmm.. this actually broke it down to the nuts and bolts thank you for the share..:)

  • gags3480 profile image

    GAGANPREET SINGH BHATIA 4 years ago from Kanpur, India

    Lots of useful info. here like the Gas gangrene which I heard for the 1st time. Good Job.

    Voted up & shared.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Thank you for the useful and interesting information about an important topic, Seeker7!

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Voted up and useful. Thanks for sharing this very informative article. Passing it on.

  • Michael-Milec profile image

    Michael-Milec 4 years ago

    Good morning, seeker 7.

    Knowledgeable. Gangrene is a bad word as is its condition. Never heard abou before. You're great provider of information. Teaching us. Most of your hubs I'm reading to obtain more knowledge, sorry for not commenting since i don't know what to say; except that my preference is to stay healthy. In case that the " enemy " try to deliver any virus or some sickness, I speak out loud , take it back with you. I don't want it, don't need it, don't accept it. I'm healthy, I'm healed by His stripes.... Thank you Jesus. This might sound unusual, however works for me, as well for some others practicing faith and spoken word.

    Thank you for opportunity. Continue your great work, is needed and appreciated. Voting up and useful. Make a great day.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    LOL!!! HI Frank - well I've learned something as well - Ganggreen being the New York Jets!! And glad you enjoyed the hub!

    Ps sorry for the delay in replying - have been down with flu for a few days - yes flu, we're back to winter here in Scotland!!!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi gags3480, many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Alicia, sorry for the delay in replying - have been down with flu for a few days. Glad you enjoyed the hub!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rasma, sorry for the delay in replying, have been down with flu for a few days. Glad you enjoyed the hub! As always many thanks for passing it on.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hello Michael-Milec, many thanks for stopping by and for your very kind comment - thank you, it's really appreciated! If you have a positive attitude and a positive belief then this helps to keep you healthy more than anything else will! So I salute you for your healthy state and your healthy attitude - its not 'unusual' at all!

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