You may notice the following symptoms at the site of the dry gangrene:
- Dry and shriveled skin that changes color from blue to black and eventually sloughs off
- Cold and numb skin
- Pain may or may not be present
Symptoms of wet gangrene may include:
- Swelling and pain at the site of infection
- Change in skin color from red to brown to black
- Blisters or sores that produce a bad-smelling discharge (pus)
- Fever and feeling unwell
- A crackling noise that comes from the affected area when pressed
Internal gangrene usually is painful in the area of the gangrene. For example, a person with gangrene of the appendix or colon would be expected to have severe abdominal pain in the vicinity of the gangrene.
If infection from gangrene gets into the blood, you may develop sepsis and go into septic shock. This can be life-threatening if not treated immediately. Symptoms of sepsis may include:
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Change in body temperature
- Body pain and rash
- Cold, clammy, and pale skin
If you think you or a loved one may have sepsis, go to the emergency room immediately.
Treatment for gangrene involves removing the dead tissue, treating and preventing the spread of infection, and treating the condition that caused gangrene to develop. The sooner you receive treatment, the better your chance of recovery. Depending on the type of gangrene, treatment may include:
Surgery. Also called debridement, the dead tissue is surgically removed to prevent the spread of infection. In some situations, amputation (removal of the affected limb) may be required.
Maggot therapy. Believe it or not, maggots still play a role in modern medicine. Maggots provide a non-surgical way to remove dead tissue. When used to treat gangrene, maggots from fly larvae (specially bred in a laboratory so they are sterile) are placed on the wound, where they consume the dead and infected tissue without harming healthy tissue. They also help fight infection and speed up healing by releasing substances that kill bacteria.
Antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat and prevent infections. These are usually given by intravenous injection into a vein.
Oxygen therapy. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be used in some cases of wet gangrene or ulcers related to diabetes or peripheral artery disease. During treatment, the patient is put in a specially designed chamber filled with oxygen at a higher pressure than oxygen found in the outside air. The theory is that this high level of oxygen saturates the blood and encourages healing of the dying tissue. Oxygen therapy may also reduce the growth of bacteria that cannot thrive in an oxygen-rich environment.
In order to prevent gangrene from occurring again, the cause of any blood supply blockage must be determined so that the underlying condition can be treated. Often vascular surgery, such as bypass surgery or angioplasty, is needed to restore blood flow. Medication to prevent blood clots may be used in some cases.
Gangrene is a serious medical condition that requires immediate medical treatment. While most people with dry gangrene recover fully with treatment, gangrene that involves an infection can be life-threatening. The sooner you get treatment, the better your chances of recovery. If you have ongoing and unexplained pain in any area in your body, fever, a wound that is slow to heal, or you notice a change in skin color, make an appointment to see your doctor right away or go to the emergency room.