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Tissue death as a result of arterial or venous injury is a life threatening condition. This section of the hi website is dedicated to helping you with prevention and early detection tips which may save your life - or your limbs.

Gangrene is the death of body tissues caused by impaired or an absent blood supply. It can occur as a result of arterial or serious venous damage. The effect can be disastrous and lead to loss of limbs. The products of tissue breakdown can also be caused to enter the blood stream leading to blood poisoning and threatening life.

Gangrene as a result of arterial damage occurs when an artery is injected into instead of a vein. It is often the result of injecting an irritant such as Temazepam into the femoral artery rather than the femoral vein. It can, however occur when people inject into the smaller arteries in the arm. It occurs for the following reasons:

  • The artery can go into spasm and interrupt the supply of oxygenated blood to the tissues
  • The injected substance can block the artery, interrupting the blood supply to the tissues
  • Small particles of the injected substance can be transported into and block the capillaries in the tissue, causing their breakdown.

Gangrene following venous damage may be slower to develop, and results when damage to the veins is such that the return of venous blood from the infected limb is no longer adequate: blood gets into the tissues at a faster rate than it can come out. In the end the reduced flow of blood through the tissues is inadequate to sustain them and they die.

Signs and symptoms of gangrene include:

  • Pain
  • Loss of feeling and control in an area of skin
  • Swelling and discolouration of the affected limb
  • Affected extremities i.e. fingers and toes
  • Affected tissues initially becoming white
  • Affected tissues eventually blackening
  • If untreated, affected tissues will eventually drop off

To help prevent gangrene:

  • Avoid injecting into the artery
  • Learn the signs and symptoms of injecting into an artery (if there is a pulse it's an artery)
  • Learn first aid treatment following accidental arterial injection
  • Avoid injecting crushed tablets

Be aware that it is a serious condition and requires medical help. If it happens suddenly or very quickly get to an emergency room as soon as possible.