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Gangrene: Historical Problem, Modern Solutions

In history, soldiers were often terrified of seeing field doctors after being wounded. Medicine wasn’t always as advanced as it is now; simple wounds could easily devastate the body. Lack of in-depth knowledge of the human body and poor medications meant many wounds got infected and developed a dangerous problem called gangrene. Although medicine has come a long way, this problem hasn’t disappeared. It can still threaten lives today.

Dead Feet

Gangrene develops when blood flow to a body tissue is interrupted, and the tissue dies. This can occur with any part of your body, but it’s most common in the extremities, like your feet. Any issue that limits your circulation increases your risk of developing this complication, including diabetesperipheral artery disease, trauma, and infections. Limited blood deprives your cells of the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive. Eventually this state kills the cells. Usually your skin changes color, ranging from pale or reddish-bronze to blue or black. Frequently you have severe pain in the affected area, followed by numbness. You might have sores leaking a foul-smelling fluid as well, and sometimes a fever accompanies the condition.

There are actually five types of gangrene—dry, wet, gas, internal, and Fournier’s—though the most common kinds in the lower limbs are dry and wet. The dry type occurs when blood flow is impeded for an extended period of time. It’s most common in the extremities of people with diabetes or an autoimmune disease.

Wet gangrene almost always involves an infection. A traumatic injury cuts off blood flow to an area, and bacteria moves in. This type can quickly spread to healthy body parts and deteriorate into a life-threatening problem. The other three types of this condition affect other areas of the body, like deep muscles, internal organs, and even the genitals. No matter what type develops, though, this condition is extremely dangerous and can easily become fatal if left untreated.

Saving the Body

Tissue that has died cannot be saved. The condition does need immediate treatment, though, because the presence of gangrene can cause the body to go into shock, or allow dangerous infections to spread. Either situation is a life-threatening emergency. Our expert staff here at Absolute Foot Care Specialists will carefully examine the potentially gangrenous limb to determine the extent of the condition. We will need to delineate where the damage ends and healthy tissue begins. Then we can take steps to eliminate the problem and prevent its spread.

The gangrene will need to be removed, typically through surgery. Depending on what is affected, this procedure can range from grafting new skin to an affected area to amputating the entire foot. Unless the condition has spread significantly, though, usually just a small area needs to be cut away. Dr. Noah Levine may need to take special steps to try to restore healthy blood flow to your lower limbs. If an infection is present, you’ll need antibiotics to combat it.

Less-used alternate treatments include maggot therapy and blood transfusions. Specially-bred maggots feed on dead tissue without touching healthy cells. They also release substances that destroy bacteria. As you might guess, most people do not like the idea of maggot therapy. Blood transfusions are sometimes used to help reduce the effect of an infection. By replacing contaminated blood, the new blood helps remove the bacteria from the body and encourages healing.

Gangrene is a truly serious condition that can cost you your foot—or even your life. People with diseases that compromise the circulatory and immune systems have a particularly high risk. Don’t take your feet for granted. If you notice abnormal changes, pain, or loss of feeling, contact Absolute Foot Care Specialists here in Las Vegas for an appointment or more information. Call (702) 839-2010, or fill out the online contact page to reach us.