Gangrene vs. Necrosis

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Are you confused as to what gangrene or necrosis is? Are you even more confused as to whether or not they're different? If so, read this lesson for some much needed clarity.

Confusing Terms

The terms gangrene and necrosis are often confused and some definitions of one actually use the other term in their definition as if they're the same thing! This just adds to the confusion of things. This lesson is going to first define necrosis, then gangrene and finally compare the two so you're clear as to what they are, how they're related and how they're different.


Necrosis, succinctly put, is a term that refers to irreversible cell injury and death in a living organism. This word comes to us from the Greek 'nekros', which means death or dead. Thus, the prefix of 'necros-' also means death. The suffix; however, gives away the broader meaning of necrosis. The suffix is '-osis', which refers to an abnormal state or process of some sort.

In a broader sense, then, necrosis is actually the entire process of irreversible cell injury and death in a living organism. It involves the microscopic cellular, macroscopic (gross), and biochemical changes of this form of pathologic cell death. As such, necrosis also refers to the important sequela of this process, such as inflammation, scarring, and permanent tissue/organ loss of function.

Critically, necrosis:

  • Is permanent
  • 'Accidental', in that the cell doesn't 'plan' its own cell death as per another cell-death process known as apoptosis. The cell in necrosis is killed, it doesn't 'commit suicide'.
  • Pathologic in nature. In that some sort of problem causes the cell death and the process of necrosis itself creates unfavorable consequences.
  • Something that occurs only in living organisms. A similar process, called postmortem autolysis, occurs in organisms that have passed away. Postmortem refers to after ('post-') death ('mortem') and autolysis refers to self ('auto') dissolving ('lysis').


Gangrene is a term that refers, in simple terms, to the death of a tissue or organ as a result of an inadequate blood supply. This, by extension, implies the tissue or organ hasn't received enough oxygen since blood carries oxygen to our tissues and organs. Gangrene comes to us from the Greek 'gangraina', a gnawing sore. Gangrene can involve a very small area of a part of the body or it might involve an entire organ.

There are two common categories of gangrene. One is known as dry gangrene. This involves the death of tissue without any bacterial involvement. In this kind of gangrene, a person's tissue will dry and shrivel. The other major form of gangrene is wet (moist) gangrene, which involves a bacterial infection. The bacteria multiplies, releases toxins and a lot of wet pus is produced in the process.


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