Gangrene: Dealing with Dead Tissue

Sooner or later, everything passes away or breaks down. Nothing lasts forever. Plants and animals get old, buildings crumble, and machines rust. Of course, certain outside forces, like accidents and disease, can wear down people and objects much faster. What you may not have realized is that a small portion of a body can die while everything else remains live and functioning. This is called gangrene.

Permanent Damage

Gangrene develops when tissues lose blood flow and die. Limbs that have the highest risk for circulation problems, like your feet, are more likely to experience tissue death. All of your cells require oxygen and nutrients to survive. If the blood providing these is cut off from your feet or toes for too long, your cells break down. Unchecked infections can sometimes destroy enough cells so that areas of tissue can decay as well. There are several different types of gangrene. The two that can develop in the lower limbs are called “dry” and “wet.” The dry type typically results from severe vascular diseases. The wet variety is much more painful and appears after a serious injury, including frostbite or burns. The injured foot becomes infected, destroying the tissues around the wound and putting the rest of the body at risk.

Generally the affected area dies slowly. You may or may not feel pain. If an infection is present, the limb may swell before any tissue decays, and there may be pus with a foul smell. The gangrenous area will feel numb and cold to the touch. Typically the skin changes color as the cells break down. The affected area may appear pale, blue, purple, black, bronze, or red, depending on the type of gangrene you have developed. Bacterial infections related to the condition can spread through your body and become life-threatening as well.

Saving the Feet

Dead tissue on your feet is as dangerous as it sounds. You need to have your lower limbs treated immediately to save as much of the limb as possible and prevent life-threatening infections from developing. Our team of specialists will examine your foot to determine the extent of the problem and the best way to manage it. Tissue that has already died cannot be restored, but you can prevent the problem from spreading and sometimes save limbs that haven’t progressed too far.

Generally, gangrenous toes or parts of the feet will need to be removed quickly. You’ll need surgery to excise the damaged tissues. Sometimes opening up blood vessels to improve blood supply in the area can prevent total cell death and restore most of the limb. You’ll need antibiotics to eliminate any infections that are present. If the condition is treated quickly enough, you’ll most likely recover with very few difficulties.

If you have any of the symptoms of gangrene, don’t wait to have it checked. The consequences of allowing this condition to progress are significant, ranging from disability to death. Contact NorthPointe Foot & Ankle in Berkley, MI, for an appointment right away if you or someone you care for develops tissue death. Use our website contact form or call (248) 545-0100 to reach us.