The symptoms of gangrene are manifested differently based on the type of gangrene the patient is diagnosed with. Common symptoms include localized skin discoloration, numbness, mild to severe pain, and unusual fluid discharge from the affected area. This article discusses the symptoms of different types of gangrene and the various treatment options available for this condition.
Gangrene is a medical term used for the diagnosis of dead cells (necrosis) and tissues, which are caused due to limited or absence of blood flow in a particular area, for an extant period. Very often, its symptoms are observed in patients with severe blood vessel diseases such as peripheral vascular disease and atherosclerosis. Also, those with a compromised immune system, prolonged smoking habit, and diabetes have a higher risk of developing this condition.
Generally, any part of the body may be affected with gangrene; however, in most cases, it is developed in body extremities (hands and feet), particularly in the lower portion. The causes and/or risk factors of this condition include injury, physical trauma, burn injuries, wound infection, and vascular diseases. The manifested symptoms of this condition vary based on the location, underlying cause, and corresponding type, which are discussed below:
Dry Gangrene Symptoms
It is caused due to limited blood supply over a period of time. Mostly seen in elderly patients with peripheral vascular disease, it is common in the toes and feet. Noticeable symptoms include:
- Cold sensation and dull ache
- Numbness in the affected area
- Localized reddening of the skin
- Brownish skin coloration
- Dry, black, and shrunken appearance of the skin
Wet Gangrene Symptoms
It is developed in certain moist tissues of the body, where there is sudden cessation of blood circulation. Thus, it is mostly caused due to severe accidental injuries or trauma. Signs and symptoms of this condition are:
- High temperature
- Inflammation of the affected area
- Sharp pain
- Unusual oozing of fluids
- Foul odor coming from the affected area
- Blackish skin coloration
Gas Gangrene Symptoms
The common cause of this condition is infection by bacteria (Clostridia strain), which results in accumulation of toxic gas underneath the skin layer. Eventually, the cells and tissues that are exposed to this toxic gas die and become non-functional. Associated symptoms of this condition are:
- Swelling of the wound
- Seething pain over the area
- Wound infection
- Bloody discharge from the affected area
- Cracking sensation when pressed gently
- Fever that does not subside
- Increased heart rate
As it is a life-threatening medical condition, immediate treatment is essential to avoid certain complications. A moist gangrene may cause blood poisoning, while gas gangrene may lead to delirium. In addition, there is always a risk of it spreading from one body part to the rest of the body.
Diagnosis and Treatment
In case the doctor suspects that a patient has gangrene, then he may consider performing certain diagnostic tests such as blood test, computed tomography (CT) scan, X-ray, and tissue culture (for checking bacterial infection). Another confirmatory test is an arteriogram (for identification of blocked arteries). The prognosis of dry gangrene is usually better than wet and gas gangrene.
Therapeutic treatment for this condition is done with reference to the location and the extant of dead tissues. An untreated condition may cause septic shock, in which the patient manifests shortness of breath, confusion, and low blood pressure. As a part of the treatment, an appropriate antibiotic course and pain relievers are prescribed for all the types. After that, the physician may recommend a surgical procedure, either for restoring the lost blood supply (for dry gangrene) and removing dead tissues or debridement (for wet and gas gangrene). With timely diagnosis and treatment, this condition can be handled effectively, and complete recovery is achieved without complications.