What is Gangrene?
Gangrene occurs when an injury, infection, or other condition causes tissue to die, usually because of inhibited blood circulation leading to the affected area. Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, is one of the top risk factors for gangrene. Gangrene infection most commonly affects the hands, feet, arms, and legs.
There are several different types of gangrene:
- Wet gangrene can develop after frostbite and has a moist, blistered appearance.
- Gas gangrene is caused by bacteria that accumulates inside a surgical wound or injury with impeded blood supply. This type of gangrene affects deep muscle tissue.
- Internal gangrene is when blood flow to one of your organs is blocked, causing internal tissue death.
- Dry gangrene causes the skin to take on a dry, shriveled, brownish-black appearance slowly. People with plaque buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis) and peripheral artery disease (PAD) are at risk of developing dry gangrene.
Left untreated, a gangrene infection can spread and become deadly. If you are concerned about developing gangrene as a result of PAD, schedule a consultation with a board-certified vascular doctors at USA Vascular Centers. They can help you determine whether you are showing any signs of gangrene infection and work with you to develop a personalized PAD treatment plan.
What Causes Gangrene?
Gangrene is often caused by conditions like peripheral artery disease (PAD), which impedes blood flow in the body. When there is not enough oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood flowing to the extremities, the tissues can die. Untreated bacterial infections and wounds that allow bacteria into the body can also cause gangrene.
The risk factors for gangrene can increase the likelihood of a person developing the condition.
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing gangrene. Those who have recently sustained injuries or undergone surgeries are also at an increased risk, especially if they also have PAD. Other gangrene infection risk factors include smoking, obesity, immunosuppression, and potentially COVID-19 complications.
Symptoms of a Gangrene Infection
With a better understanding of what causes gangrene, you can keep an eye out for symptoms of a gangrene infection. While the symptoms of this condition vary depending on the cause and area of gangrene infection, initial symptoms can include numbness and loss of feeling in the area, redness or swelling, and pale, cold skin. These gangrene symptoms may also be signs of PAD.
Because you can have both PAD and gangrene at the same time, it’s important to pay attention to these symptoms and seek help from a vascular doctor. At USA Vascular Centers, our board-certified vascular doctors are highly skilled in spotting PAD and gangrene symptoms and can help treat the underlying cause of your gangrene infection.
As gangrene progresses, you may feel intense pain in the affected area, or you may not feel any at all. Some gangrene infections cause fever, chills, blisters, sores, and skin that changes from red to brown to black as it dies. If you have any of these symptoms of gangrene in the foot, leg, or elsewhere in the body, seek medical care right away.
How Does Peripheral Artery Disease Lead to Gangrene Infection?
Anyone with peripheral artery disease, caused by atherosclerosis, is at risk of developing gangrene infection, particularly if the PAD is left untreated. PAD means that plaque builds up in the arteries, causing increasingly narrower passageways for blood to flow through. The plaque can build up significantly, causing a critical blockage in the arteries leading to the lower extremities. Wounds will begin to heal slowly or not due to a lack of oxygenated blood in the limbs. PAD will progress through its four stages without treatment until it develops into gangrene, the main symptom of Stage 4 peripheral artery disease.
Treatment of Non-Healing PAD Wounds and Gangrene
Once non-healing PAD wounds and gangrene develop, prompt treatment is essential to help avoid complications like amputation and death. First, a physician may treat the wound or gangrene itself, removing dead tissue and treating any infections that have developed in the area. The physician can order tests to determine the cause of the gangrene. If PAD is suspected, a vascular doctor can perform an angioplasty or ankle-brachial index test to diagnose PAD. Then, the underlying cause must be treated. For PAD-related gangrene, a vascular doctor can work to resolve underlying atherosclerosis and blocked blood flow.
At USA Vascular Centers, our highly recommended vascular doctors perform three minimally invasive PAD treatments: angioplasty, stent placement, and atherectomy. With these treatments, our doctors can open narrowed arteries, allowing blood to flow more freely through the arteries. This can restore blood flow to the limbs suffering from non-healing PAD wounds and gangrene infection.
Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Centers
If you are dealing with symptoms of PAD or gangrene, schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified vascular doctors. At USA Vascular Centers, our state-of-the-art outpatient treatment centers are accredited by the AAAHC, which means we adhere to rigorous patient safety standards and qualify for Medicare and Medicaid certification. We also provide lodging options for patients from out of town.
We look forward to helping you avoid or treat PAD gangrene infections so that you can get back to living your full life. Call us today at 888.773.2193 today
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 “Gangrene.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, February 11, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gangrene/symptoms-causes/syc-20352567.
 “Gangrene.” Symptoms and Causes. Accessed April 6, 2022. https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/gangrene.
 Hardman, Rulon L, Omid Jazaeri, J Yi, M Smith, and Rajan Gupta. “Overview of Classification Systems in Peripheral Artery Disease.” Seminars in interventional radiology. Thieme Medical Publishers, December 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4232437/.