Diabetic gangrene: Causes and prevention

You may have come across the term ‘gangrene’ at some point, or more specifically, diabetic foot gangrene when talking to people who have had diabetes for a long time. The condition really can get as bad as its ominous-sounding name if diabetics do not pay close attention to it or keep a check on their sugar levels. 

What is Gangrene?

Gangrene is a condition that develops when the blood flow to an area of the body is disrupted or completely cut off, leading to the death of the tissue in the affected area. Normally gangrene occurs due to an injury or an infection from soft tissue or the skin that spreads. Gangrene generally affects the extremities of the body, such as the limbs, fingers and toes. It is recognised by its characteristic features such as discolouration of the skin, loss of sensation in the affected area and unusual pus or discharge from the affected area. Gangrene can be dangerous and requires immediate medical attention if left untreated; the bacteria in the dead tissue can spread through the blood, which can lead to a life-threatening situation. 

There are several types of gangrene, and each has its own cause. They also have different symptoms:

Gangrene Type Symptoms
Dry gangrene Discolouration of the affected area characterised by blue, purple, green or even black colour.
Wet gangrene Blisters and swelling around the affected area, typically around frostbite or severe burns.
Gas gangrene  Gas under the skin of the affected area gives its bubbly appearance. Accompanies by swelling and brownish-red discolouration.
Internal gangrene  Affects the gallbladder, intestines and appendix. It is characterised by the onset of severe pain and fever.
Fournier’s gangrene Restricted to genitals. Characterised by pain, swelling, tenderness, discolouration (purple, green or black) and extremely foul smell. 
Progressive bacterial synergistic gangrene Develops after surgery. It is characterised by skin lesions around the affected area. 


diabetic gangrene

What is Diabetic Gangrene & Diabetic Foot Gangrene?

If you have diabetes, then you are at a higher risk of developing diabetic gangrene. There are three major factors to consider: 

  • Peripheral neuropathy and diabetic gangrene: In the long run, diabetes damages the nerves in the extremities of the body, a condition called peripheral neuropathy.The condition results in a lowered sensation of pain in the toes and fingers.  So, a diabetes patient who sustains an injury such as a cut or a burn may not be able to feel it because of the loss of sensation and hence may not be aware of it. This condition can lead to dry diabetic foot gangrene when left unchecked. 
  • Diabetes weakens the immune system, and when unnoticed cuts in the extremities get exposed, the high blood sugar makes it more favourable for the bacteria to cause an infection. This condition can lead to wet gangrene. 
  • Excess blood sugar also hardens the blood vessels making it difficult for the white blood cells to reach the infected wounds and fight infections. All these factors increase the chances of diabetic foot gangrene classified as diabetic gangrene icd 10 – E11.52. 

So, what is diabetic foot gangrene

The diabetic foot gangrene is a long term complication of diabetes that is caused by various associated factors such as sensory neuropathy and peripheral arterial disease. The reduced ability to feel pain means patients can continue to have minor injuries in their foot left unnoticed until the point it turns into foot ulcers. A common complication for those with type-1 and type-2 diabetes is the onset of diabetic foot gangrene at the site of the ulcers on the foot. 

Good news: Proper care of the foot ulcers and wound can significantly help prevent the development of diabetic foot gangrene

Treatment of diabetic gangrene 

Severe gangrene infections might need amputation of the affected area; therefore, it is imperative that diabetics are always aware of the signs of gangrene. Here are other treatments for diabetic gangrene

  • Surgery: Surgery is performed to reconstruct damaged blood vessels or bypass them to restore flow. This is done to relieve patients of diabetic foot gangrene.
  • Antibiotics: Infection of wounds are treated with antibiotics to kill the specific organism that is causing it. 
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: Oxygen is forced into the damaged cells using a hyperbaric chamber to stimulate the healing of the cells. 
  • Maggot treatment: Severe diabetic foot gangrene is effectively treated using maggots that eat away the dead cells and destroy bacteria through their secretions. 

diabetic gangrene

Prevention of diabetic gangrene:

Preventing diabetic gangrene is a holistic approach and involves the following: 

  • If you’re overweight, it’s important to control your weight as it can stress the arteries unnecessarily. 
  • Keeping your diabetes under control by regularly monitoring your blood sugar levels and tightly keeping it within limits. 
  • Regularly paying attention to the feet and looking for lesions or signs of ulcers or infection. 
  • Foot care is very important to ensure that any cuts or injuries are known and treated. If you live in cold areas, it’s important to wear protective footwear and regularly monitor for frostbite in order to avoid diabetic foot gangrene.
  • Quit smoking. Long use of tobacco makes the blood vessels weak, and you are more prone to diabetic gangrene

To wrap up

Diabetic gangrene is a real problem that often sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Therefore it is essential to maintain good health and keep your diabetes under control. For more guidance on how to beat your diabetes and live life to the fullest, Twin health is the way to go. 

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