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Gangrene is the progressive death of body tissue that results from a lack of blood supply. When the blood supply is cut off, the tissue does not get enough oxygen and begins to die.

Gangrene can be internal or external. The two most common types of gangrene are:

  • Dry gangrene — A lack of blood supply causes the tissue to die.
  • Wet gangrene — Usually occurs when bacteria infects the tissue after an injury. The tissue becomes moist and breaks down.

Gas gangrene is a rarer wet type and develops from specific bacteria deep inside the body. Gas gangrene can be a result of surgery or trauma.

Risk Factors

Your chances of developing gangrene increase if you have:

  • Poorly controlled health conditions, such as diabetes or atherosclerosis, which may affect blood vessels
  • Health conditions or medications that suppress the immune system
  • A perforated bowel
Other risk factors include:
  • Severe trauma
  • Surgery
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • IV drug use


External gangrene may cause:

  • Color changes, ranging from white to red to black
  • A shiny appearance to skin
  • Foul-smelling, frothy, clear or watery discharge
  • Sloughing off of skin
  • Severe pain followed by loss of feeling in the affected area

Internal gangrene may cause:

  • Fever and chills
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lightheadedness or fainting, which may be caused by low blood pressure

If the gangrene is widespread, sepsis can occur.

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Gangrene of the Foot
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Diagnosing Gangrene

Your doctor performs a physical exam.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Tests of the discharge and the tissue
  • Imaging studies looking for type and extent of damage:
    • X-ray
    • CT scan
    • MRI


Treatment includes:

  • IV antibiotics
  • Debridement  — a surgical procedure to cut away dead and dying tissue, to preventing gangrene from spreading
  • Supportive care, including fluids, nutrients and pain medication to relieve discomfort
  • Blood thinners to prevent blood clots
  • Amputation — removal of severely affected body part
  • Hyperbaric oxygen treatment — involves exposing the affected tissue to oxygen at high pressure
  • Surgery may also be done to restore blood flow to the affected area


Call 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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