If you had a nickel every time a character was wounded in a film or TV show and another character fretted about acting fast “before gangrene sets in” you'd be rich. But did you ever stop and wonder what that gangrene was and why it was so intent upon making that wounded guy's bad day even worse?
Simply, gangrene is tissue death. When blood ceases to flow to somewhere in the body due to infection, illness or injury, that somewhere dies. It is often a limb or extremity like fingers or toes, but gangrene can also affect muscles and internal organs.
Although we are most acquainted with the threat of gangrene as a result of a trauma or serious injury in the movies, there are other, less dramatic, causes, including:
· Peripheral arterial disease
· Raynaud's phenomenon (a condition in which the blood vessels that supply the skin become intermittently narrowed)
There are two sub-types of gangrene. “Dry” gangrene is most common in people with diabetes, and usually affects the feet and/or hands. It is born from poor circulation, and the affected tissue dries up and assumes a brown or purplish complexion. “Wet” gangrene – the typical Hollywood variety – stems from infection usually arising from burns or trauma. The tissue swells and blisters, becoming “wet” with pus.
Doctors will act fast when dealing with the prospect of gangrene, for if infection from gangrene enters the bloodstream, life-threatening septic shock may result. Their aim in all treatments will be to remove the dead tissue.
Surgical removal of dead tissue is called “debridement.” Amputation of the affected limb or organ is included in this. A second treatment for gangrene – you'll love this – is maggot therapy, also known as maggot debridement therapy or larval therapy. In this procedure, livedisinfected fly larvae are introduced to the wound, where they consume the necrotic tissue and help fight infection and speed up healing by releasing substances that kill bacteria.
Sources: U.S. National Library of Medicine