Gangrene, or necrosis, is the death of tissues in your body caused by an infection or loss of blood supply to the area. It most often occurs in your extremities, such as fingers and toes, but it can occur on the skin or internally in your muscles or organs. You’re at greater risk of developing gangrene if you’ve had a serious injury or surgery, or you have an underlying condition that can affect blood flow, such as diabetes, peripheral arterial disease and atherosclerosis.

Gangrene is a serious condition that requires immediate attention. In severe cases, it can lead to amputations or death. The earlier you seek medical attention, the better the chances for successful recovery, so it’s important to recognize symptoms and call your doctor immediately. For patients affected by gangrene or other conditions that impede wound healing, the Ohio State limb preservation program offers central Ohio's most advanced treatments to prevent the loss of a limb.

Warning Signs of Gangrene

The symptoms depend on the location and cause of the gangrene. If the gangrene affects the skin or is close to the skin, the symptoms may include:

  • Skin discoloration — blue or black if the skin is affected; red or bronze if the affected area is beneath the skin
  • A clear line between healthy and damaged skin
  • Severe pain followed by a feeling of numbness
  • Foul-smelling discharge

If the gangrene affects deep muscle tissue or organs inside the body, the symptoms may include:

  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Pain and swelling in tissues beneath the skin
  • General sick feeling
  • Low blood pressure
  • Persistent or severe pain

Visit your Ohio State doctor or go to the nearest emergency department immediately, if you notice any of these symptoms.

In order to diagnose gangrene, your Ohio State doctor may use blood tests to determine whether there’s an infection or examine a tissue or fluid sample from wounds to identify bacterial infection. To determine how far the gangrene has spread and plan treatment, Ohio State doctors use specialized technology for non-invasive testing, including ultrasound and transcutaneous oxygen measurement.

Advanced, Multidisciplinary Treatment

Although tissue damaged by gangrene can't be saved, treatment can prevent gangrene from progressing. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center offers the latest treatment options delivered by doctors and surgeons who specialize in wound healing. 

Treatments may include:

Antibiotics – Intravenous medications can be used to treat infection.

Surgery – Your doctor removes the dead tissue — which helps stop the spread of gangrene and allows healthy tissue to heal — and may also perform minimally invasive vascular procedures to improve blood flow to the affected area. Your doctor may use skin grafts, or healthy skin from another part of your body, to cover the area damaged by gangrene. Our surgeons have the expertise to perform even the most complex surgical reconstructions.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy – Under increased pressure and oxygen content, your blood is able to carry greater amounts of oxygen, which can slow the growth of bacteria and help infected wounds heal more effectively. This painless, non-invasive therapy can help enhance healing.

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