What is Gangrene?
The term gangrene refers to the death of portions of tissue in the human body as a result of a complete loss of its blood supply. Gangrene can develop on any part of the body but is most often seen on the most distal areas of the limbs such as the fingers or toes, as well as the hands or feet.The tissue death can come as a consequence of a number of different factors such as infection, trauma, or diseases which involve the blood vessels.
There are two major types of gangrene, dry gangrene and moist/wet gangrene. The former involves the necrosis of tissue due to an underlying disorder from within the body that cuts off the blood supply to any particular area of the body; these usually include a health condition that affects proper blood circulation. Once any type of obstruction prevents the blood vessels from providing any particular region with the steady supply of blood it requires for a prolonged period of time, the tissue involved dies and will eventually slough off. The affected areas are uninfected but are essentially necrotized and dead. Wet gangrene on the other hand results from the infection of any open wound. If an infection is left untreated, the inflammatory and immune responses will continually cause swelling in the affected body part and bar any blood from reaching the area. Gangrenous conditions should be caught as early as possible in order to halt the process of cell death and preserve whatever viable tissue can be saved.
The symptoms of the condition will largely depend on the cause and location of the gangrenous development. Generally, gangrene that involves skin tissue will have the following symptoms:
- Blue or black discoloration of the skin
- Foul-smelling odor of discharges oozing from affected area
- Loss of sensation to affected area
If, on the other hand, the gangrene has developed internally and is affecting visceral organs, the following symptoms can be observed:
- Confusion or disturbed orientation
- General feeling of illness
- Blood pressure that is lower than normal (hypotension)
- Extreme and persistent pain
The symptoms also help determine the type of gangrene that is occurring. Dry and wet gangrene each have their own characteristic features.
Dry gangrene exhibits the following symptoms:
- The concerned regions of the body turn cold and numb
- Affected area starts out having a reddish discoloration which eventually progresses into a brownish color
- In the final stages of tissue death, affected tissue turns black and will display shrivelling up of the skin
Wet gangrene has the following characteristics:
- Primarily, affected regions are swelled-up and are gradually decaying
- Affected area is severely painful
- Affected area exhibits oozing and gives off a foul odor
- Tissue becomes black
- Patient develops a fever
On a cellular level, the cells that are banded together to form the different tissues of our body require a constant supply of nutrients and oxygen in order to survive. These elements are distributed to all the cells of our body through the blood which are constantly flowing through every area in order to ensure that each region receives its supply of energy. Any factor that could slow down or completely cut off the availability of blood to our tissue can result in cellular death. As cells die over an extended period of time wherein the tissues do not receive enough blood, the entire portion of involved tissue necrotizes and becomes unsalvageable.
Several conditions or circumstances can pave the way for gangrene to occur. Injuries, diseases, and infections can all bring out the necrosis of tissue.
One of the diseases that commonly results in the development of gangrene is diabetes mellitus. The high blood sugar levels in diabetes patients can obstruct and damage blood vessels, which lead to slow and improper wound healing. Most diabetes patients develop gangrene in the lower limbs, such as on the feet, due to the fact that any injuries they incur on the feet can sometimes go unnoticed and remain open and unhealed for long periods of time. The untreated infection leads to the gangrenous tissue death. These types of gangrenes are also known as wet gangrenes, which, by definition, are those that develop due to the infection of the tissue.
Wet gangrene can also be caused specifically by the bacteria known as Clostridia. These bacteria are anaerobic which means they do not require any oxygen to survive. Thus, any region of the body which does not receive oxygen is an ideal breeding ground for clostridia infections. Gangrene brought about by clostridia infections are also known as “gas gangrenes” due to the noxious gases these micro-organisms produce.
In contrast to wet gangrene, the second major type of gangrene, dry gangrene, does not involve infection of the tissue. Dry gangrene is caused by diseases that involve blockage to the arteries or prolonged vasoconstriction – which is the contraction of the blood vessels which limits the passage of blood. Arteriosclerotic diseases (hardening of the blood vessels), formation of blood clots, as well as habitual smoking can all contribute to possible gangrene development. Smoking cigarettes does it part to developing potential gangrene by triggering the constriction of the blood vessels which cut off or slow down the passage of blood.
Treatment for gangrene involves immediate medical intervention in order to limit the gangrene and preserve as much living tissue as possible. Patients with gangrene are given antibiotics and are recommended to undergo surgical procedures immediately in order to remove the necrotized flesh as well as interrupt the underlying disease process that could be causing the death of tissues.
Dry gangrene can be treated through determining the cause that is blocking the blood supply. A surgeon specialized in vascular operations can assess the affected area in order to determine if the blood vessels can be manipulated and restore the proper provision of blood supply. For wet gangrene, debridement or the process of the removal of dead tissue is performed and antibiotics are administered to control the infection.
In terms of medications, pain relievers are given by doctors to help with the extreme pain in affected areas. Anticoagulants are also given to prevent the formation of clots that could clog up blood vessels and prevent the flow of blood.
Photos, Images and Pictures of Gangrene…