Gangrene: Tissue in Trouble

Your tissue needs blood to survive. Important nutrients and oxygen, as well as antibodies to fight infection, are all delivered to parts of your body through your blood stream. If circulation is altered, dangerous consequences can result, including the death of body tissue—a condition known as gangrene. This condition most often affects extremities like the feet.

Foot SilhouetteRating Your Risk

Anything that affects your blood flow or causes infection increases your risk of body tissue death. Without proper blood supply, your cells cannot survive and tissue decays. Uncontrolled infection can have the same results. So, conditions such as atherosclerosis and peripheral arterial disease, which both have an impact on your circulation, and diabetes, which can put you at a higher risk. Raynaud’s phenomenon narrows blood vessels and can be a contributing factor as well. In addition, smoking, obesity, and trauma or serious injury can all make you more susceptible.

Different Types of the Disease

There are several types of gangrene, two that mainly affect the feet.

Dry - This type most commonly occurs in those living with diabetes or other autoimmune disorders that wreak havoc on your circulation. Tissue may appear brown, black, or bluish-purple and is often shriveled, dried up, and falling off.

Wet - With this type, infection is almost always present. It can result from burns or crush injuries that quickly cut off blood supply. Tissue swells and blisters and often oozes, thus the “wet” reference. It may also emit a foul smell. Infection can spread rapidly and become potentially life-threatening.

Symptoms of Troubled Tissue

Skin discoloration is a strong indicator that your tissue is in trouble. Depending on the type of gangrene, skin in the affected area can range from blue or black to brown or red. There is typically a clear distinction between the healthy and damaged skin.  It may be painful, numb, swollen, or blistered. Fever is a sign of infection and can also indicate septic shock. This shock occurs when the infection spreads to your blood stream. Low blood pressure, shortness of breath, confusion, clammy skin, and rapid heartbeat are other symptoms of sepsis—seek help immediately, it can be fatal.

Prompt Treatment is Crucial

Treating gangrene at the onset is essential to avoiding serious complications including amputation and even death. The dead tissue will be removed and the area treated to prevent the spread of infection. Any underlying conditions will be treated as well to reduce your risk for future problems and increase your chance for recovery. Treatment methods typically include:

Surgery - This can be performed to remove damaged skin and encourage healthy tissue to heal. Procedures can also include repairing damaged blood vessels to improve blood flow or utilizing skin grafts to repair the damaged area.

Medication - Antibiotics will likely be prescribed to treat and prevent infection.

Oxygen Therapy - This treatment method entails a special chamber pressurized with pure oxygen. Under these circumstances, blood can carry greater amounts of oxygen, accelerating healing of dying tissue as well as fending off bacteria.

Prevention is Possible

You can reduce your risk by managing underlying conditions, losing weight, and snuffing out cigarettes. Keep feet clean and dry, and be careful of frostbite and burns. If you experience any signs of trouble, call Podiatry Associates, P.C. immediately. To make an appointment with Dr. Cynthia Oberholtzer-Classen or another member of our team, please dial (303) 805-5156 or visit either our Parker or Castle Pines, CO, locations.

Photo Credit: How Soon Ngu via unsplash.com

Dr. Cynthia Oberholtzer-Classen, DPM
Founder and Owner of Podiatry Associates, PC