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What Is a Gangrene?

Gangrene occurs when there is a lack of blood supply to tissue, depriving it of oxygen, and thereby causing death and decay of the tissue. The two main types of gangrene are wet (caused by bacterial infection) and dry (no infection). Your risk of gangrene is higher if you have an underlying condition that can damage your blood vessels and affect blood flow, such as diabetes or hardened arteries (atherosclerosis).

Causes of Gangrene

The most common causes of gangrene are diabetes, arteriosclerosis, tobacco abuse, burns and frostbite. Initiation of gangrene may result from a wound or injury that is slow to heal due to lack of blood supply to the injured area.

Symptoms of Gangrene

  • Skin discoloration — ranging from pale to blue, purple, black, bronze, or red depending on the type of gangrene you have
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Sudden, severe pain followed by a feeling of numbness
  • A foul-smelling discharge leaking from a sore
  • Skin that feels cool or cold to the touch

If gangrene affects tissues beneath the surface of your skin, such as gas gangrene, you may also have a low-grade fever and generally feel unwell.

Diagnosis of Gangrene

To diagnose gangrene a physical exam will reveal initial changes to the skin. Additional imaging may be necessary to rule out gas gangrene or osteomyelitis.

Nonsurgical Treatment

May include local wound care and close observation.

When Is Surgery Needed?

When other treatment options fail or are not appropriate, treatment includes surgical removal of the dead tissue, which may include a level of amputation, and use of antibiotics when infection is present. Surgical intervention to restore blood flow is often necessary as well.

Why choose a foot and ankle surgeon?

Foot and ankle surgeons are the leading experts in foot and ankle care today. As doctors of podiatric medicine – also known as podiatrists, DPMs or occasionally “foot and ankle doctors” – they are the board-certified surgical specialists of the podiatric profession. Foot and ankle surgeons have more education and training specific to the foot and ankle than any other healthcare provider.

Foot and ankle surgeons treat all conditions affecting the foot and ankle, from the simple to the complex, in patients of all ages including gangrene. Their intensive education and training qualify foot and ankle surgeons to perform a wide range of surgeries, including any surgery that may be indicated for gangrene.

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