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Gangrene may be caused by a variety of chronic diseases and post-traumatic, post-surgical, and spontaneous causes. There are three major types of gangrene: dry, moist, and gas (a type of moist gangrene).

Dry gangrene is a condition that results when one or more arteries become obstructed. In this type of gangrene, the tissue slowly dies, due to receiving little or no blood supply, but does not become infected. The affected area becomes cold and black, begins to dry out and wither, and eventually drops off over a period of weeks or months. Dry gangrene is most common in persons with advanced blockages of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) resulting from diabetes.

Moist gangrene may occur in the toes, feet, or legs after a crushing injury or as a result of some other factor that causes blood flow to the area to suddenly stop. When blood flow ceases, bacteria begin to invade the muscle and thrive, multiplying quickly without interference from the body's immune system.

Gas gangrene, also called myonecrosis, is a type of moist gangrene that is commonly caused by bacterial infection with Clostridium welchii, Cl. perfringes, Cl. septicum, Cl. novyi, Cl. histolyticum, Cl. sporogenes, or other species that are capable of thriving under conditions where there is little oxygen (anaerobic). Once present in tissue, these bacteria produce gasses and poisonous toxins as they grow. Normally inhabiting the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and female genital tract, they often infect thigh amputation wounds, especially in those individuals who have lost control of their bowel functions (incontinence). Gangrene, incontinence, and debility often are combined in patients with diabetes, and it is in the amputation stump of diabetic patients that gas gangrene is often found to occur.

Other causative organisms for moist gangrene include various bacterial strains, including Streptococcus and Staphylococcus. A serious, but rare form of infection with Group A Streptococcus can impede blood flow and, if untreated, can progress to synergistic gangrene, more commonly called necrotizing fasciitis, or infection of the skin and tissues directly beneath the skin.

Chronic diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, arteriosclerosis, or diseases affecting the blood vessels, such as Buerger's disease or Raynaud's disease, can cause gangrene. Post-traumatic causes of gangrene include compound fractures, burns, and injections given under the skin or in a muscle. Gangrene may occur following surgery, particularly in individuals with diabetes mellitus or other long-term (chronic) disease. In addition, gas gangrene can be also be a complication of dry gangrene or occur spontaneously in association with an underlying cancer.

In the United States, approximately 50% of moist gangrene cases are the result of a severe traumatic injury, and 40% occur following surgery. Car and industrial accidents, crush injuries, and gunshot wounds are the most common traumatic causes. Because of prompt surgical management of wounds with the removal of dead tissue, the incidence of gangrene from trauma has significantly diminished. Surgeries involving the bile ducts or intestine are the most frequent procedures causing gangrene. Approximately two-thirds of cases affect the extremities, and the remaining one-third involve the abdominal wall.

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