Gangrene refers to the death of body tissue due to a lack of blood flow or a bacterial infection. It can affect any part of the body but typically starts in the toes, fingers, and limbs.
Critical limb ischemia, which can lead to dry gangrene, affects 1 in 100 adults over age 50. It’s even more common among people over age 70, affecting 1 in 50 adults. Gas gangrene is less common, affecting about 1,000 people in the U.S. annually.
Symptoms of gangrene vary depending on the type but may include:
- Discoloration of the affected area (black, blue, green, or red).
- Swelling or bloating of the tissue.
- Cold or numb sensation.
- Foul-smelling discharge (if an infection is present).
- Pain that later leads to a loss of sensation in the affected area.
Gangrene is caused by an interruption of blood flow to a certain area, which can arise from several factors:
- Injury: A traumatic injury, burn, or frostbite can lead to gangrene.
- Infection: Bacterial infections can block blood flow.
- Chronic conditions: Diseases like diabetes, peripheral artery disease, and Raynaud’s disease increase the risk.
Types of gangrene
There are several different types of gangrene, each with a different cause. The main types are:
- Dry gangrene – where the blood flow to an area of the body becomes blocked
- Wet gangrene – caused by a combination of an injury and bacterial infection
- Gas gangrene – where an infection develops deep inside the body and the bacteria responsible begin releasing gas
- necrotising fasciitis – caused by a serious bacterial infection that spreads quickly through the deeper layers of skin and tissue
- Internal gangrene – where the blood flow to an internal organ, usually the intestines, gallbladder or appendix, becomes blocked
People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing gangrene. This is because the high blood sugar levels associated with the condition can damage your nerves, particularly those in your feet, which can make it easy to injure yourself without realising.
High blood sugar can also damage your blood vessels, restricting the blood supply to your feet. Less blood means your feet will also receive fewer infection-fighting cells, so wounds will take longer to heal and are more likely to become infected.
It’s therefore important that you take extra care of your feet if you have diabetes.
Injuries and surgery
You’re also at an increased risk of developing gangrene if you experience a traumatic injury or serious damage to your skin and tissues, such as:
These injuries can cause a sudden loss of blood to an area of your body, and any open wounds can become infected with bacteria.
Gangrene can also occur as a result of an infection that develops during surgery. However, with advances in surgical techniques and infection control, the chances of it developing during surgery are small nowadays.
Weakened immune system
If your immune system is seriously weakened, minor infections can become more serious and can lead to gangrene. A weak immune system can be caused by:
- chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- long-term alcohol misuse
- injecting drugs, such as heroin
- being over 60 years of age (the older you are, the less efficient your immune system is)
- kidney failure
However, for reasons that are unclear, gangrene can sometimes occur in young and otherwise healthy people.
If gangrene is left untreated, the following complications can arise:
- Systemic infection: The infection can spread through the bloodstream, leading to sepsis, a life-threatening condition.
- Tissue loss: Gangrenous tissue may need to be surgically removed.
- Loss of body part: Severe cases may necessitate amputation of the affected body part.
- Death: Especially if the condition progresses to sepsis.
Vitastem as a Treatment for Gangrene?
While it is important to note that Vitastem isn’t a common first-line treatment for gangrene and can’t replace surgical interventions or standard care, there are some reasons it might be considered as part of the wound treatment plan:
- Antibacterial Properties: Vitastem has properties that make it effective against a range of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. In cases where gangrene is caused or exacerbated by bacterial infection, Vitastem might help reduce the bacterial load.
- Ease of Application: The product’s topical form is easy to apply to the affected area, especially in cases where the skin is open or ulcerated.
- Adjunctive Therapy: While not a standalone treatment for gangrene, Vitastem might be beneficial when used alongside other treatments. For instance, after debridement (removal of dead tissue), Vitastem may help prevent secondary bacterial skin infections.
- Promotes Healing: Topical antibiotics, like Vitastem, may help to aid the healing process by reducing the chances of a bacterial superinfection.
Treating and preventing gangrene
Gangrene is a serious medical condition that requires prompt attention. While surgical intervention, vascular procedures, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and other treatments are the primary approaches, adjunctive topical antibiotic treatments like Vitastem may be able to provide benefits in certain situations. For years, Vitastem has been a formidable treatment for diabetic wounds and has helped save countless amputations due to non-healing diabetic ulcers. It’s crucial to work closely with a trusted healthcare provider to determine the best course of action.