What Is Gangrene?
Gangrene is a medical term used to describe the death of an area of the body. It develops when the blood supply is cut off to the affected part as a result of various processes, such as infection, vascular (pertaining to blood vessels) disease, or trauma. Gangrene can involve any part of the body; the most common sites include the toes, fingers, feet, and hands.
Two major types of gangrene exist:
- Dry gangrene is caused by a reduction of blood flow through the arteries. It appears gradually and progresses slowly. In most people, the affected part does not become infected. In this type of gangrene, the tissue becomes cold and black, begins to dry, and eventually sloughs off. Dry gangrene is commonly seen in people with blockage of arteries (arteriosclerosis) resulting from increased cholesterol levels, diabetes, cigarette smoking, and genetic and other factors.
- Wet or moist gangrene develops as a complication of an untreated infected wound. Swelling resulting from the bacterial infection causes a sudden stoppage of blood flow. Cessation of blood flow facilitates invasion of the muscles by the bacteria and multiplication of the bacteria because disease-fighting cells (white blood cells) cannot reach the affected part.
- Gas gangrene is a type of wet gangrene caused by the bacteria known as Clostridia. Clostridia are a type of infection-causing bacteria that grow only in the absence of oxygen. AsClostridia grow, they produce poisonous toxins and gas; therefore, the condition is called gas gangrene.
What Causes Gangrene?
The following conditions are risk factors for the development of gangrene:
- Injury or trauma, such as a crush injury, a severe burn, or frostbite
- Diseases that affect the circulation of blood, such as arteriosclerosis, diabetes, smoking, or Raynaud's disease
- Infection of wounds
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/23/2016
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