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Gangrene is the progressive death of body tissue resulting 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, called gas gangrene 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.

Gangrene of the Foot

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Diagnosing Gangrene

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

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 — to treat infection
  • 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 — given 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

Preventing Gangrene

To help reduce your chance of getting gangrene, take these steps:

  • If you have chronic health conditions, stick with the treatment plan outlined by your doctor.
  • If you have diabetes, inspect your feet every day for cuts, sores, or wounds.
  • Care for any cuts, sore, or wounds promptly to avoid infection.
  • If you need surgery, ask your doctor about taking antibiotics. This is especially true if you need intestinal surgery.


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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