Overview of Necrosis in the Human Body

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Necrosis in the death of tissues of the body. Necrosis can be treated, with the dead tissue being removed, but the affected tissue can not be returned to good health.

Types of Necrosis

One common type of necrosis is caused by damage from frostbite. During frostbite, the tissues are severely damaged by cold, and if the condition is not treated quickly, the frostbitten areas turn black and die. These black areas are necrotic, or affected by necrosis, and cannot be healed and are typically removed during surgery.

Another type of necrosis happens when a clot, such as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) forms in a blood vessel and blocks blood flow to an area of the body. If blood flow is not restored quickly, the area starves for oxygen and eventually dies. This usually happens in the legs (but can happen anywhere in the body) and can result in the loss of tissue below the site of the blockage if the blood vessel is completely blocked.

Causes of necrosis
Verywell / Cindy Chung

Causes and Risk Factors

Necrosis is caused by a lack of blood and oxygen to the tissue. It may be triggered by chemicals, cold, trauma, radiation or chronic conditions that impair blood flow. There are many types of necrosis, as it can affect many areas of the body, including bone, skin, organs and other tissues.

It isn't always a clot or cold that leads to necrosis, these are just common examples. Many types of injuries can cause enough damage that necrosis happens. Infection can destroy surrounding tissues until they become necrotic, as can trauma like a car accident or fall from a ladder. Any time blood flow is blocked to an area, or an area is so damaged that blood can not flow to and from it, necrosis may be possible.

Treatment

The good news (and bad news) is that a complete blockage of blood flow is typically painful, and usually painful enough that the individual seeks treatment immediately. Treatment may include surgery to restore blood flow or to remove the damaged tissues, antibiotics to prevent or treat infection, or treating the burn or other issues that caused the initial damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the causes of necrosis?

    Necrosis can have various causes, which can lead to different types of damage to tissues:

    • Hypoxia: Caused by ischemia (insufficient blood flow to an organ), shock, or respiratory failure
    • Physical agents: External injuries like trauma, extreme temperatures (for example, frostbite), radiation exposure, or electric shock
    • Chemical agents: Caused by poison, drug toxicities, or recreational drugs
    • Biological agents: Bacteria, viruses, or fungi
    • Immunologic reactions: Autoimmune responses (where the immune system attacks healthy tissues)
  • What is coagulative necrosis?

    Coagulative necrosis refers to a specific appearance that necrosis can have. It is defined by dead cells that sustain their shape for several days after the cells have died, and is the usual appearance of most necrosis.

    The other appearance pattern of necrosis is called liquefactive necrosis (colliquative necrosis). It refers to dead tissues that decompose into a viscous liquid, sometimes appearing as a creamy yellow due to pus forming.

  • How is necrosis treated?

    In many cases, necrosis treatment starts by identifying and addressing the cause of cell death. Restoring blood flow to the affected areas is the most important priority in order to prevent further damage. Once the blood supply has been restored, which may require surgery, any dead tissue can be removed.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Adigun R, Basit H, Murray J. Cell liquefactive necrosis. StatPearls.