Gangrene is a medical term used to describe the death of an area of the body. It develops when the blood supply is cut off to the affected part as a result of various causes. Gangrene can involve any part of the body, but most commonly the toes, fingers, feet and hands.

There are two major type of gangrene:

  • Dry gangrene is caused by a reduction of blood flow through the arteries.
  • Wet or moist gangrene results as a complication of an untreated, infected wound. Swelling from the bacterial infection stops blood flow suddenly.


The doctor may diagnose gangrene by conducting a physical examination. The symptoms vary, depending on the location and cause of the gangrene. If the skin is involved, or the gangrene is close to the skin, symptoms may include:

  • Blue or black discoloration if skin is affected; red or bronze discoloration if the affected area is beneath the skin)
  • Foul-smelling discharge
  • Numbness in the area, which may happen after severe pain in the area

If the affected area is inside the body, such as gangrene of the gallbladder or gas gangrene, symptoms may include:

  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Gas in tissues beneath the skin
  • General ill feeling
  • Low blood pressure
  • Persistent or severe pain

In addition to a physical exam, your physician may use any of the following to diagnose gangrene:

  • Arteriogram (special x-ray that identifies blockages in the blood vessels) to help plan treatment for blood vessel disease
  • Blood tests (white blood cell [WBC] count may be high)
  • CT scan to examine internal organs
  • Tissue culture or fluid culture from wounds to identify bacterial infection
  • Examine tissue under the microscope to look for cell death
  • Surgery to find and remove dead tissue
  • X-rays


Your risk is higher for gangrene if you have:

  • Serious injury
  • Blood vessel disease (such as arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries) in your arms or legs
  • Diabetes
  • Suppressed immune system (i.e., due to HIV or chemotherapy)
  • Surgery
  • Bacterial infection

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