Gangrene is a serious condition in which a loss of blood supply causes body tissue to die. It can affect any part of the body but typically starts in the toes, feet, fingers and hands.

Gangrene can occur as a result of an injury, infection or a long-term condition affecting blood circulation.

Symptoms of gangrene include:

  • redness and swelling in the affected area
  • either a loss of sensation or severe pain in the affected area
  • sores or blisters in the affected area that bleed or produce a foul-smelling pus

You should see your GP immediately if you are worried you may have gangrene.

Read more about symptoms of gangrene and diagnosing gangrene.

Who is affected

Anyone can develop gangrene, particularly after a serious injury, but there are certain groups of people who are more at risk.

These include people with long-term conditions that can affect the blood vessels, such as:

  • diabetes – a condition that causes a person's blood sugar level to become too high
  • atherosclerosis – where arteries narrow and become clogged with a fatty substance known as plaque
  • peripheral arterial disease – where a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries restricts blood supply to leg muscles
  • Raynaud's phenomenon – where blood vessels in certain parts of the body, usually the fingers or toes, react abnormally to cold temperatures

During 2012-13, around 35,000 cases of gangrene were seen in hospitals in England.

Read more about the causes of gangrene.

How gangrene is treated

The earlier treatment begins, the more successful it is likely to be. The main treatments include surgery to remove damaged tissue (known as debridement) and antibiotics to treat any underlying infection.

In some cases, you may have surgery to restore the blood flow to the affected area.

In more severe cases, it may be necessary to remove an entire body part such as a toe, foot, or lower leg. This is known as amputation.

Read more about treating gangrene.

Preventing gangrene

Many cases of gangrene can be prevented.

If you have a condition that increases your risk of gangrene, it’s important to have regular check-ups to assess the state of your feet and to report any problems to your GP as soon as possible.

Stopping smoking if you smoke and adopting a healthy lifestyle, with a low-fat diet and regular exercise, can also improve your circulation and reduce your risk of developing gangrene.

Read more about preventing gangrene.

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