Necrosis In the Human Body

What You Should Know About Necrosis

Doctor Treats Climber's Frostbitten Hands
Necrosis can be caused by frostbite. Jason Burke/Getty Images

Definition: 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.

What You Should Know About Necrosis

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.

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 vessels 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 and can result in the loss of tissue below the site of the blockage if the blood vessel is completely blocked.

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. 

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 damage tissues, antibiotics to prevent or treat infection, or treating the burn or other issue that caused the initial damage.

Pronunciation: neh-crow-sis

Also Known As: gangrene, necrotic,

Common Misspellings: necroses, nicrosis, nacrosis, nacroses, nucrosis, nucroses, nacrotic,

Examples: After being stuck outside in a snowstorm, the hiker's feet were so cold for so long that his toes became necrotic.

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