What is Gangrene?

Gangrene occurs when a part of the body starts to “die” due to lack of blood supply. It can occur anywhere, but more commonly happens on the extremities such as the hands or feet. Any sign of gangrene needs to be taken seriously and must be removed before it spreads. Poor circulation and diabetes are some of the leading causes of gangrene. People who have been smokers for a long time are also at a higher risk. Gangrene is not spread by contact, so even though it may not look good, you don’t have to worry about the rest of your family getting it just by being exposed.

Flesh Eating Bacteria on the other had, is an infection (that is incredibly rare) and can spread through your entire body fairly quickly. You will need to cut out or remove any parts that have been infected before and it is fatal in about 25-30% of cases in the US. If you are in close contact with someone who is infected, it is a good idea to get tested just in case.

What Do You Do if You Have Gangrene?

If you notice that your skin is feeling cold to the touch and a darker color (sort of like when your lips turn a bluish hue when it’s too cold) and there is acute, sudden pain or numbness, visit your doctor right away. The faster you can address the issue, the better chance you will have at a full recovery. If it already looks like your tissue is decaying and there is redness, oozing, swelling or a foul odor you should make an emergency appointment or go to the hospital to get surgery immediately. If gangrene continues to spread, it can lead to loss of limbs and death.

Dr. Kenneth R. Wilhelm of Clifton Foot & Ankle Center is board-certified in foot surgery and has been practicing in the Centreville, VA area for over seventeen years. If you have any questions, call 703-996-3000 or make an appointment here.

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