Gangrene refers to the death of body tissue due to a lack of blood flow or a bacterial infection. Gangrene most commonly affects the extremities, including your toes, fingers and limbs, but it can also occur in your muscles and internal organs.

Your chances of developing gangrene are higher if you have an underlying condition that can damage your blood vessels and affect blood flow, such as diabetes or atherosclerosis.

Treatments for gangrene include surgery to remove dead tissue, antibiotics and other approaches. The prognosis for recovery is better if gangrene is identified early and treated quickly.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

When gangrene affects your skin, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Skin discoloration — ranging from pale to blue, purple, black, bronze or red, depending on the type of gangrene you have
  • A clear line between healthy and damaged skin
  • Severe pain followed by a feeling of numbness
  • A foul-smelling discharge leaking from a sore

If you have a type of gangrene that affects tissues beneath the surface of your skin, such as gas gangrene or internal gangrene, you may notice that:

  • The affected tissue is swollen and very painful
  • You're running a fever and feel unwell

A condition called septic shock can occur if a bacterial infection that originated in the gangrenous tissue spreads throughout your body. Signs and symptoms of septic shock include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Fever, possibly, though temperature may also run lower than the normal 96.8 F (36 C)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion

When to see a doctor

Gangrene is a serious condition and needs immediate treatment. Call your doctor right away if you have persistent, unexplained pain in any area of your body along with one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Persistent fever
  • Skin changes — including discoloration, warmth, swelling, blisters or lesions — that won't go away
  • A foul-smelling discharge leaking from a sore
  • Sudden pain at the site of a recent surgery or trauma
  • Skin that's pale, hard, cold and numb

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