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What is Wet Gangrene?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 October 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Wet gangrene is an invasive form of tissue death that may occur with bacterial infection. Individuals who develop wet gangrene generally have an underlying condition, such as soft tissue damage, with impaired circulation that initiates the onset of necrosis, or tissue death. In order to prevent the spread of gangrene to surrounding tissues, treatment generally necessitates surgery and the aggressive administration of antibiotic medication. Timely and appropriate treatment is key to a good prognosis for this potentially life-threatening condition.

When soft tissues are adversely affected by trauma or disease, blood circulation can become impaired. Inadequate blood circulation can cause oxygen and nutrient deprivation that compromises the health of the affected area. Wet gangrene develops when blood supply is completely cut off. The blood-starved tissues and, in some cases, organs become vulnerable to infection that can easily lead to tissue death in the absence of antibody protection.

A variety of laboratory and diagnostic tests may be used to confirm a diagnosis of wet gangrene. Following an initial physical examination, a blood draw may be conducted to help determine the extent of infection. Generally, a tissue culture will also be performed to determine the type of bacteria responsible for the infection. A battery of imaging tests, including a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be administered to determine how invasive the infection has become and whether it has affected one’s organs.

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Initial signs of wet gangrene infection may include skin discoloration and intense discomfort or pain in the affected area. Affected tissues often adopt a glossy, blistered appearance giving this form of gangrene its namesake. It is not uncommon for seeping blisters or skin ulcerations to produce an offensive odorous discharge that may be opaque in consistency. Depending on the extent of bacterial infection and invasiveness of the necrosis, some individuals may experience soft tissue swelling that may be accompanied by malaise and fever.

Simple measures, such as appropriate wound care, can go a long way in preventing wet gangrene. Those who heal slowly, such as diabetics, are encouraged to be especially watchful of any wounds they may sustain, keep the wounds clean and dry, and see a physician at the first sign of infection. If wet gangrene becomes extensively invasive or enters the bloodstream, septic shock may develop causing additional symptoms, including a drop in blood pressure and impaired respiration. Death may result if treatment for this aggressive form of gangrene is delayed or absent.

To reduce the risk for the spread of wet gangrene, surgery is generally performed to remove the affected tissues. Severe cases may necessitate additional reconstructive surgeries or amputation. Aggressive antibiotic therapy may be administered either orally, intravenously or both. Those whose infection has compromised their body’s ability to function independently may be given artificial support to stabilize their condition, including supplemental oxygen to ease breathing when respiration is impaired.

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