Gangrene Definition and Characterization

Pyoderma gangrenosum Images

Gangrene is the death of tissue in part of the body because it has lost its blood supply as the result of injury, infection or other causes. Gas gangrene, a severe form that can progress rapidly and become lethal, is caused by the bacterium Clostridium perfringens and is more likely to affect those with ​the underlying vascular (blood vessel) disease.


Tissue death

Medical Specialties

Emergency medicine, Internal medicine, Surgery

Gangrene In Our Own Words

Gangrene, the death of tissue in part of the body, occurs due to lack of blood supply. Symptoms may include skin discoloration, discharge or numbness. Foul odors are common.

The condition requires immediate evaluation and treatment to reduce the need of amputating the affected body part. Gangrene can occur after an injury, during infection or for other reasons. Those people with a serious injury, blood vessel disease, diabetes or a suppressed immune system (from HIV or chemotherapy) are at higher risk of gangrene, as are patients who have undergone surgery.

Treatment may include antibiotic medicine, a procedure to boost blood supply to the area and surgery to remove the dead tissue or to perform an amputation.

More Information About Gangrene

In addition to (C. perfringens), which causes gangrene, the bacterial genus Clostridium is composed of 60 species, such as C. tetani, C. botulinum, C. tetani, and C. septicum. These different species of bacteria cause a variety of infections and produce dangerous toxins (proteinaceous exotoxins).

Clostridium are typically found in soil, sewage, marine sediments and feces. For example, war wounds typically become infected in areas where animals are raised and slaughtered. Furthermore, tetanus and botulism, both caused by Clostridium species, are also linked to soil, water and food.

Due to a dearth of medical care, gas gangrene, an especially severe form of gangrene, is pretty common in developing nations. Here are some ways that people are infected with Clostridium that causes gas gangrene:

  • Gunshot wounds
  • Knife wounds
  • Abortion is done in unsterile environments
  • Surgery
  • Gastrointestinal cancer

Historically, gas gangrene is an especially big problem on the battlefield.

There are two types of gangrene: dry gangrene and wet gangrene. Both of these types of gangrene cause death to tissue. Dry gangrene typically results from an emboli or clot that is thrown to a blood vessel in the foot whereas wet gangrene has a moist appearance and is commonly accompanied by blisters.

The treatment of gangrene usually occurs in the hospital. Treatment for gangrene is pretty intense and can include systemic antibiotics, surgical debridement (or removal of dead tissue) and even amputation. Blood vessels are also examined using arteriography to check for vascular compromise, which needs to be corrected. Additionally, x-rays are taken to check for gas gangrene. Of note, the treatment of wet gangrene needs to be particularly aggressive.

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