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Diabetes and Gangrene: What's the Connection?

Medically reviewed by Mitchie Gonzales-Montalbo, MD · Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 20, 2022

Diabetes and Gangrene: What's the Connection?

People having difficulty managing their diabetes often worry about complications, such as neuropathy, blindness, and increased risk for cardiovascular diseases. At times, they might even do an online search for “gangrene diabetes.” What is gangrene? And why is it highly associated with uncontrolled diabetes? The answers and more in this article. 

What Is Gangrene?

Gangrene comes from the Latin word for “gnawing sore” or “decayed tissue.” This potentially fatal condition refers to tissue death that occurs when a certain part of the body (commonly the arms and legs, including the fingers and toes) doesn’t receive adequate blood supply or suffers a severe infection. 

There are several types of gangrene depending on the cause and nature of the injury. For instance, dry gangrene happens due to blocked blood flow, while wet gangrene occurs because of an injury and bacterial infection. Then, there’s gas gangrene, which develops due to an infection caused by a gas-releasing bacteria.

What’s the Connection Between Gangrene and Diabetes?

Now, let’s talk about why some people search for the terms “gangrene diabetes.”

You see, gangrene doesn’t develop solely due to diabetes. The risk depends on the person’s blood vessel health and immune system. People who have weak immunity and those with underlying health conditions that negatively affect their blood vessels are at an increased risk for gangrene. 

“Gangrene diabetes” is a commonly searched complication because long-term, uncontrolled hyperglycemia damages the nerves and blood vessels. 

How Does Gangrene Develop from Diabetes?

The concept of “gangrene diabetes” may be too vague if all we know is that long-term, uncontrolled hyperglycemia damages the blood vessels and nerves. 

So, how exactly does gangrene develop? Let’s break the answer down to the following concepts:

  • Increased blood sugar leads to decreased blood vessel elasticity, which causes them to narrow. 
  • Narrowed blood vessels negatively affect circulation. 
  • To compensate for the reduced blood flow, the arterioles (small arteries) dilate. In the long run, however, this mechanism only triggers further tissue damage. 
  • In other words, the problem with reduced circulation continues and worsens. 

Low blood supply means the cells do not receive enough life-giving oxygen. Eventually, tissues die. 

Another reason why “gangrene diabetes” is commonly searched is due to nerve damage. 

As mentioned earlier, an injury can trigger the development of gangrene. Unfortunately, people with diabetes may have neuropathy, which reduces their sensation. In other words, patients might might be unaware that they had developed wounds until they became severe. 

The combination of increased risk for untreated injury and reduced blood supply makes people with uncontrolled diabetes prone to gangrene. 

How Can People Prevent Gangrene?

Since gangrene can spread to large areas of the body rapidly, treatment may involve amputation and reconstructive surgery. Severe cases of gangrene might likewise lead to organ failure and death.

This is why prevention is crucial. What preventive measures can you take?

The first step in preventing tissue death is to keep your diabetes in control. This means consistently reaching your blood sugar goals through diet, exercise, and medications. Controlling your condition can protect your blood vessels and nerves. 

The following tips will also help:

  • Inspect your skin for wounds daily. Give special attention to your feet since diabetic toenails and feet are common conditions and they might progress into gangrene when left untreated. 
  • If you notice wounds — no matter how small — treat them right away to prevent infections. 
  • Achieve a healthy weight. Excess weight puts stress on your blood vessels. 
  • Avoid or quit smoking. Cigarettes also damage the blood vessels. 
  • Finally, work closely with your doctor. If you have questions about your health, medicines, diet, and exercise, get in touch with them. 

    Learn more about Diabetes Complications here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mitchie Gonzales-Montalbo, MD

    Dietetics and Nutrition

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 20, 2022

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