by Kimberly Allen, RN
Gangrene is considered a serious and has the potential to be a life-threatening condition that develops when a mass of body tissue dies. There are numerous conditions that can cause gangrene to develop including infection, injury, even frostbite. Anything that affects the circulation of blood to any area of the body can lead to gangrene.
There are four main types of gangrene:
1. Dry gangrene usually develops in people that already have a condition that affects their blood vessels like atherosclerosis. This type of gangrene usually develops gradually, the skin becomes shriveled and dry and can vary in color anywhere from brown to black or purpleish-blue.
2. Wet gangrene frequently develops in people with diabetes, but can also develop after an injury, severe burn, or frost bite. This type of gangrene spreads rapidly and can be fatal if not treated
immediately. This type of gangrene is refered to as “wet” because there’s a bacterial infection in the tissue affected. An area affected with wet gangrene will be swollen with a blistering and wet appearence.
3. Gas gangrene usually develops after an injury or surgery when there is reduced blood supply to that area. It is almost always caused by the bacterium clostridium perfingens and like wet gangrene it can be fatal if not treated. The bacterium produces toxins that release gas causing the tissue in the area to die. The deep muscle tissue is most commonly affected in this type therefore your superficial skin usually appears normal in the beginning. Then as the infection spreads through your skin will begin to look pale then turn a grayish to a purplish-red
color and when you press on the area you will usually hear a crackling sound from the gas.
4. Internal gangrene can affect one or more of your organs. It most commonly involves the appendix and intestines. This type develops when something interferes with the blood flow to an organ, like inflammation. For example, if your appendix was to become severely inflamed squeezing off the blood supply to your intestines. This type of gangrene can also be fatal if not treated.
These four are the most common, however, there are also a few very rare types including Fournier’s gangrene and Meleneys gangrene.
Gangrene should alaways be taken seriously as it can lead to nnot only tissue scarring but depending on the extent of tissue damage the part affected may need rto be amputated. In addition to that all the types of gangrene that are caused by a bacterial infectioncan spread rapidly affecting other organs leading to death if left untreated.
Once the tissue has been damaged by gangrene it can not be repaired or saved. The Dr will need to remove the dead tissue which helps to prevent the gangrene from spreading further and promotes healing. If the damage is extensive, your Dr may recommend a skin graft to repair the skin damaged. All types of gangrene are treated with antibiotics due to the high risk for infection even in those not caused by bacteria. In addition to those treatments, you’ll be given fluids, and nutrition, to promote healing as well as pain medications to improve your comfort.
The best way to prevent gangrene is to take care of yourself. If you’re a diabetic keep your blood sugar under control and always take care of your feet. If you are over weight lose any excess weight as it not only increases your risk for other health issues like diabetes but it also puts pressure on your arteries reducing blood flow. Always take the necessary precautions when going out in the cold against frost bite.