Classification and external resources

Dry gangrene of the 1st to 4th toes of the right foot in a man with diabetes.
ICD-10 R02, I70.2, E10.2, I73.9
ICD-9 040.0, 785.4
DiseasesDB 19273
MeSH D005734

Gangrene is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that arises when a considerable mass of body tissue dies (necrosis).[1][2] This may occur after an injury or infection, or in people suffering from any chronic health problem affecting blood circulation.[2] The primary cause of gangrene is reduced blood supply to the affected tissues, which results in cell death.[3] Diabetes and long-term smoking increase the risk of suffering from gangrene.[2][3]

There are different types of gangrene with different symptoms, such as dry gangrene, wet gangrene, gas gangrene, internal gangrene and necrotising fasciitis.[1][2] Treatment options include debridement (or, in severe cases, amputation) of the affected body parts, antibiotics, vascular surgery, maggot therapy or hyperbaric oxygen therapy.[4]



The etymology of gangrene derives from the Latin word gangraena and from the Greek gangraina (γάγγραινα), which means "putrefaction of tissues". It has no etymological connection with the word green, despite the affected areas turning black and/or green and/or yellowish brown. It is coincidence that, in Lowland Scots the words "gang green" (going green) can be said to be an eggcorn for gangrene, as it describes the symptoms of the affliction.


Gangrene is caused by infection or ischemia, such as by the bacteria Clostridium perfringens[5] or by thrombosis (blocked blood vessel). It is usually the result of critically insufficient blood supply (e.g., peripheral vascular disease) and is often associated with diabetes and long-term smoking. This condition is most common in the lower extremities. The best treatment for gangrene is revascularization (i.e., restoration of blood flow) of the affected organ, which can reverse some of the effects of necrosis and allow healing. Other treatments include debridement and surgical amputation. The method of treatment is, in general, determined depending on location of affected tissue and extent of tissue loss. Gangrene may appear as one effect of foot binding.



Dry gangrene begins at the distal part of the limb due to ischemia, and often occurs in the toes and feet of elderly patients due to arteriosclerosis. Dry gangrene is mainly due to arterial occlusion. There is limited putrefaction and bacteria fail to survive. Dry gangrene spreads slowly until it reaches the point where the blood supply is adequate to keep tissue viable. The affected part is dry, shrunken and dark reddish-black, resembling mummified flesh. The dark coloration is due to liberation of hemoglobin from hemolyzed red blood cells, which is acted upon by hydrogen sulfide (H2S) produced by the bacteria, resulting in formation of black iron sulfide that remains in the tissues.[6] The line of separation usually brings about complete separation, with eventual falling off of the gangrenous tissue if it is not removed surgically, also called autoamputation.

Dry gangrene is actually a form of coagulative necrosis. If the blood flow is interrupted for a reason other than severe bacterial infection, the result is a case of dry gangrene. People with impaired peripheral blood flow, such as diabetics, are at greater risk of developing dry gangrene.

The early signs of dry gangrene are a dull ache and sensation of coldness in the affected area along with pallor of the flesh. If caught early, the process can sometimes be reversed by vascular surgery. However, if necrosis sets in, the affected tissue must be removed just as with wet gangrene.


Wet gangrene occurs in naturally moist tissue and organs such as the mouth, bowel, lungs, cervix, and vulva.[citation needed] Bedsores occurring on body parts such as the sacrum, buttocks, and heels — although not necessarily moist areas — are also categorized as wet gangrene infections. It is characterized by numerous bacteria and has a poor prognosis (compared to dry gangrene) due to septicemia. In wet gangrene, the tissue is infected by saprogenic microorganisms (Clostridium perfringens or Bacillus fusiformis, for example), which cause tissue to swell and emit a fetid smell. Wet gangrene usually develops rapidly due to blockage of venous (mainly) and/or arterial blood flow. The affected part is saturated with stagnant blood, which promotes the rapid growth of bacteria. The toxic products formed by bacteria are absorbed, causing systemic manifestation of septicemia and finally death. The affected part is edematous, soft, putrid, rotten and dark. The darkness in wet gangrene occurs due to the same mechanism as in dry gangrene. Wet gangrene is coagulative necrosis progressing to liquefactive necrosis.


Gas gangrene is a bacterial infection that produces gas within tissues. It is a deadly form of gangrene usually caused by Clostridium perfringens bacteria. Infection spreads rapidly as the gases produced by bacteria expand and infiltrate healthy tissue in the vicinity. Because of its ability to quickly spread to surrounding tissues, gas gangrene should be treated as a medical emergency.

Gas gangrene is caused by a bacterial exotoxin-producing clostridial species, which are mostly found in soil and other anaerobes (e.g., Bacteroides and anaerobic streptococci). These environmental bacteria may enter the muscle through a wound and subsequently proliferate in necrotic tissue and secrete powerful toxins. These toxins destroy nearby tissue, generating gas at the same time. A gas composition of 5.9% hydrogen, 3.4% carbon dioxide, 74.5% nitrogen, and 16.1% oxygen was reported in one clinical case.[7]

Gas gangrene can cause necrosis, gas production, and sepsis. Progression to toxemia and shock is often very rapid.



Treatment is usually surgical debridement, with amputation necessary in many cases. Antibiotics alone are not effective because they do not penetrate infected muscles sufficiently.[citation needed]


As early as 1028, when antibiotics had not yet been discovered, fly maggots were commonly[citation needed] used to treat chronic wounds or ulcers to prevent or arrest necrotic spread, as some species of maggots consume only dead flesh, leaving nearby living tissue unaffected. This practice largely died out after the introduction of antibiotics, acetonitrile[citation needed] and enzyme to the range of treatments for wounds. In recent times, however, maggot therapy has regained some credibility and is sometimes employed with great efficacy in cases of chronic tissue necrosis.



  1. ^ a b Porth, Carol (2007). Essentials of pathophysiology. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 41. ISBN 9780781770873. Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Gangrene – Introduction". NHS Health A–Z. NHS. Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  3. ^ a b "Gangrene – Causes". NHS Health A–Z. National Health Service (England). Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  4. ^ "Gangrene – Treatment". NHS Health A–Z. National Health Service (England). Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  5. ^ Clostridium as cause for gangrene
  6. ^
  7. ^ Chi CH, Chen KW, Huang JJ, Chuang YC, Wu MH (December 1995). "Gas composition in Clostridium septicum gas gangrene". J. Formos. Med. Assoc. 94 (12): 757–9. PMID 8541740. 

Notes on Poultry Gangrenous Dermatitis

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  • gangrène — [ gɑ̃grɛn ] n. f. • 1503; cancrène v. 1370; lat. gangræna, gr. gaggraina « pourriture » 1 ♦ Mort et destruction des tissus à la suite de l arrêt de l irrigation sanguine. Gangrène due au gel, à une brûlure, à l artériosclérose. Gangrène humide,… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • gangrené — gangrené, ée (gan gre né, née) part. passé de gangrener. Frappé de gangrène. Un pied gangrené. •   ....Je n ai rien, vous dis je, Répondra ce malade à se taire obstiné ; Mais cependant voilà tout son corps gangrené ; Et la fièvre, demain, se… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • gangrene — GANGRENE. subst. fem. (On prononce Cangrene.) Extreme corruption qui se fait en quelque partie du corps & qui gagne incessamment les parties voisines. Gangrene formée. il a un mal dangereux, on craint que la gangrene ne s y mette. arrester la… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Gangrene — Gan grene, v. t. & i. [imp. & p. p. {Gangrened}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Gangrening}.] [Cf. F. gangr[ e]ner.] To produce gangrene in; to be affected with gangrene. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • gangrené — Gangrené, [gangren]ée. part. Où la gangrene s est mise. Bras gangrené. jambe gangrenée. On dit figur. d Un meschant homme, qu Il a la conscience gangrenée …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • gangrene — [gaŋ′grēn΄, gaŋ grēn′] n. [Fr gangrène < L gangraena < Gr gangraina, redupl. < gran, to gnaw < IE base * gras > L gramen, grass, fodder] decay of tissue in a part of the body when the blood supply is obstructed by injury, disease,… …   English World dictionary

  • gangrene — ► NOUN Medicine ▪ localized death and decomposition of body tissue, resulting from either obstructed circulation or bacterial infection. ► VERB ▪ become affected with gangrene. DERIVATIVES gangrenous adjective. ORIGIN Greek gangraina …   English terms dictionary

  • Gangrene — Gan grene, n. [F. gangr[ e]ne, L. gangraena, fr. Gr. ?, fr. ? to gnaw, eat; cf. Skr. gras, gar, to devour, and E. voracious, also canker, n., in sense 3.] (Med.) A term formerly restricted to mortification of the soft tissues which has not… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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