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Gangrene – What are the causes, signs and treatments

Updated: Oct 5, 2023


Gangrene is a condition whereby skin and soft tissues die as a result of the lack of oxygen-carrying blood to the affected area; this means that there is insufficient blood to keep the body tissues alive. Gangrene usually affects the extremities such as the fingers, toes, feet and hands but can happen in muscles and internal organs as well.


There are 2 types of Gangrene – wet gangrene and dry gangrene, and the causes for each are different.

The most common causes for dry gangrene include chronic health diseases that affect the circulation of blood such as diabetes, atherosclerosis and tobacco addiction, and can be a result of certain types of injury and frostbite as well. Dry gangrene usually happens in the limbs and when infected, will lead to wet gangrene.

Wet gangrene is caused by bacterial infection that may be an extension of the common causes of dry gangrene listed above. There are certain cases of wet gangrene, however, whereby the primary cause is an infection itself. The infection causes the tissues in the affected area to swell, pus to form and it will look “wet” and blistered.


Dry gangrene

The affected area will start to lose its natural skin color and eventually turn blue and black. The skin will start to shrivel and dry as well with the area feeling cold. The patient will start to lose any feeling in the area as the tissues slowly die because of the lack of blood flow there.

Wet gangrene

The patient will feel intense pain in the affected area, and the skin will turn from a healthy pink tone to blue, purple and black in color. Blisters will start to form, and pus will be discharged. Because infection is always present in cases of wet gangrene, the patient will develop a fever as well.

It should be noted that wet gangrene can be potentially life-threatening as the infection can spread rapidly all over the body. If the infection gets into the bloodstream, the patient may get sepsis which has to be treated immediately. Some signs of sepsis include rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, decreased blood pressure, feeling faint and the presence of rashes on the skin.


Depending on what caused the gangrene, some of the treatments for it include eradicating the dead tissue, treating the infection and providing treatment for the disease that led to the gangrene. It is crucial that sufferers seek treatment immediately once they suspect that they have gangrene, whether it is in the extremities, limbs or internally. For diabetes and atherosclerosis patients, prevention is better than cure, and measures should be taken to avoid the onset of gangrene.

Vascular surgery

Surgery is performed on the blood vessels to allow for better blood circulation in patients who suffer from poor blood flow. Vascular surgery also helps repair damaged blood veins or arteries.

Maggot therapy

Maggot therapy offers a non-surgical method of removing dead tissues from the area affected by gangrene. The maggots used for medical purposes are bred in a lab (to ensure that they are sterile) and placed on the affected area where they will eat away the dead tissues. Another advantage of using maggots is that they will release a substance that helps speed up the healing process.


To treat gangrene caused by infections, antibiotics will be administered intravenously straight into the blood vessel.


In more serious cases of gangrene where simply removing the dead tissues in the affected area is not enough to treat the condition, amputation will be considered. Amputation is the removal of the entire part that is affected by gangrene, such as a finger, toe or limb, in order to prevent the spread of gangrene to other parts of the body. After an amputation, the patient may choose to have a prosthetic fitted.

Gangrene is a serious condition that must be treated immediately. In cases of dry gangrene, most patients recover after apt treatment but in wet gangrene where the infection is present, it is potentially fatal and the sooner it is treated by a medical professional, the higher the chances of recovery.

For more information on amputation, visit this article about amputation.

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