Gangrene is a serious condition, so seeking medical attention to treat it is very important. The longer you seek treatment for gangrene, the less likely you are to make a full recovery. Doctors often treat gangrene by removing the dead tissue it causes, prescribing antibiotics, and using other therapies such as oxygen therapy and maggots. Learn how to treat gangrene so you know what you're going to face while undergoing treatment for this condition.
Method 1 of 2: Seeking Medical Help
Step 1. Seek medical attention if you have dry gangrene
Gangrene can result from problems or changes in the skin, or in some cases from ischemia (blockage of arteries in the feet and soles of the feet) in the limbs. All types of gangrene should be treated by a healthcare professional. If you suspect that you have dry gangrene, even if it's mild, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible. Symptoms of dry gangrene include:
- Dry, wrinkled and easily peeling skin
- Blue or black skin
- Cold and numb skin
- Pain (sometimes, but not always)
Step 2. Visit the emergency department if you have wet gangrene
Although all types of gangrene require immediate medical attention, wet gangrene is more at risk of infection. This infection will be very difficult to overcome once it enters the bloodstream. Injuries can also cause wet gangrene, so you should also seek immediate medical attention if you experience this. Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms of wet gangrene:
- Swelling and pain in the infected area
- Skin color that changes from red to brown then to black
- Blisters or open sores with a foul-smelling discharge (pus)
- Feeling unwell in general
- Crackling sound when the infected part is pressed
Step 3. Watch for severe symptoms
If you believe you have gangrene, there are several symptoms that indicate that gangrene has infected the bloodstream and should seek immediate medical attention. If you notice any of the following symptoms, call 118 immediately or visit the nearest emergency room.
- Low blood pressure
- Fast heart rate
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Sudden changes in body temperature
- Body pain
- Confusion and/or lightheadedness
- Cold, wet and pale skin
Method 2 of 2: Considering Treatment Options
Step 1. Take antibiotics and other medications as directed
Your doctor may give you intravenous antibiotics or recommend that you take antibiotics as part of your treatment. You may also be given medication to control blood sugar levels, which greatly affects recovery and infection prevention. Follow the doctor's advice in using antibiotics and other drugs prescribed to treat gangrene.
- If you experience side effects or think you don't need to take any more of these medications, talk to your doctor before stopping them.
- Do not stop taking antibiotics until the entire prescription is finished. Or, antibiotics will not be effective and further infections will be more difficult to treat later in life.
Step 2. Undergo debridement and wound irrigation
Wounds with weakened, contaminated tissue, or residual sutures should undergo debridement first. Irrigation is needed to clean the wound from bacteria and loose tissue.
- In surgical debridement, surgical knives and scissors are used to remove weak tissue and irritating debris.
- Enzymatic debridement is performed using a variety of enzymes to the injured site.
Step 3. Get on oxygen therapy
Sometimes, oxygen therapy will be used to stimulate the restoration of damaged tissue. In this treatment, you will be put in a special room filled with oxygen. Indoor oxygen levels that are much higher than normal conditions are thought to speed up and increase the effectiveness of your recovery.
- Oxygen therapy can help wounds heal and reduce the amount of tissue that has to be amputated.
- Oxygen therapy is also known to be very useful for treating surgical wound infections caused by the bacterium Clostridium species that cause gas gangrene or the type of gangrene that forms in the body.
Step 4. Consider other therapies
Biological therapies such as maggot therapy have been used to treat ulcers, chronic venous ulcers, diabetic ulcers, and other chronic and acute wounds. Recombinant human growth factor is currently being investigated as a potential treatment option in wound healing. These factors include derived growth factor, fibroblast growth factor, and granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor. Your doctor may suggest that you try one of these treatments to speed healing.
Try to consider maggot therapy. Sterile maggots grown in the laboratory are often used to treat gangrene. Maggots will only eat dead tissue so they can be fed to diseased tissue and eat it up. This process will also stimulate the body to recover and prevent infection
Step 5. Talk about amputation with your doctor
Surgery may also be needed to remove damaged tissue from the body. If not removed, gangrene is likely to spread and cause more severe disturbances to the body and even death. So, the doctor may have to remove a finger, thumb, sole, or entire limb to treat gangrene.
Keep in mind that even if this procedure is successful in opening the arteries and restoring blood flow to the affected area, surgical removal of the dead tissue is still necessary in most cases of gangrene
Step 6. Treat the condition causing the gangrene
Causes of gangrene include diabetes, atherosclerosis of the limbs, peripheral arterial disease, smoking, trauma, obesity, and Raynaud's disease. Treating these causative conditions with medication or surgery may be necessary to restore blood flow to diseased tissues and improve your future health. Discuss treatment options with your doctor.
- Don't try to treat gangrene on your own. Gangrene will only get worse without professional medical treatment. Seek medical attention if you think you have any type of gangrene.
- Always follow the advice of a general practitioner or doctor in the emergency department in the treatment of wounds and ischemic gangrene.