Gangrene is a condition that occurs when body tissue dies. It is caused by a loss of blood supply due to an underlying illness, injury, and/or infection. Fingers, toes, and limbs are most often affected, but gangrene can also occur inside the body, damaging organs and muscles. There are different types of gangrene and all require immediate medical attention.
Blood plays a very important role in your health. Not only does it transport oxygen and nutrients throughout your body to feed cells, it delivers disease-fighting antibodies that protect your body from infection. When blood cannot travel freely throughout the body, your cells cannot survive, infection can develop, and tissue can die from gangrene. Any condition that affects blood flow increases your risk of gangrene, including:
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Trauma or injury
- Raynaud's phenomenon (a condition in which the blood vessels that supply the skin become intermittently narrowed)
There are two main types of gangrene:
Dry gangrene: More common in people with diabetes and autoimmune diseases, dry gangrene usually affects the hands and feet. It develops when blood flow to the affected area is impaired, usually as a result of poor circulation. Unlike other types of gangrene, infection is typically not present in dry gangrene. However, dry gangrene can lead to wet gangrene if it becomes infected.
Wet gangrene: Unlike dry gangrene, wet gangrene almost always involves an infection. Injury from burns, or trauma where a body part is crushed or squeezed, can rapidly cut off blood supply to the affected area, causing tissue death and increased risk of infection. It is called "wet" because of pus. Infection from wet gangrene can spread quickly throughout the body, making wet gangrene a very serious and potentially life-threatening condition if not treated quickly.
Types of wet gangrene include:
Internal gangrene: If gangrene occurs inside the body, then it is referred to as internal gangrene. This is usually related to an infected organ such as the appendix or colon.
Gas gangrene: Gas gangrene is rare, but dangerous. It occurs when infection develops deep inside the body, such as inside muscles or organs, usually as a result of trauma. The bacteria that causes gas gangrene, called clostridia, release dangerous toxins or poisons that wreak havoc throughout the body along with gas which can be trapped within body tissue. Gas gangrene warrants immediate medical treatment. Without treatment, death can occur within 48 hours.
Fournier's gangrene: Also a rare condition, Fournier's gangrene is caused by an infection in the genital area. Men are affected more often than women. If the infection gets into the bloodstream, a condition called sepsis, it can be life-threatening.