A 54-year-old female with a past medical history of diabetes presented to the Emergency Department (ED) for evaluation of unresponsiveness. The patient was found unresponsive by her spouse, who notes she had missed several doses of insulin over the past few days. EMS notes the glucometer read ‘HIGH’ on fingerstick. The patient remains unresponsive on presentation and is unable to contribute further history.
These photographs show advanced Fournier’s Gangrene, a form of necrotizing fasciitis located in the genitals, perineum, or perianal region. Rapid involvement of our surgical colleagues is crucial, as these patients will not recover without the debridement of affected tissues. Aggressive fluid resuscitation and broad-spectrum antibiotics can be initiated after a surgical consult is made.
This patient presented with impressive visual evidence of advanced disease including severe ecchymosis, but our clinical suspicion must be high as Fournier’s is rapidly progressing and carries a high mortality rate (may be upwards of 30%). Earlier symptoms are genital or perineal pain which may be associated with itching, lethargy, or fever. The biggest exam finding to keep in mind is ‘pain out of proportion to the exam’ as up to 40% of these patients may present without localized symptoms. Advanced disease, as seen in this patient, can present with crepitus and severe ecchymosis of tissue involved. This patient was also found to be in DKA, as evidenced by her laboratory findings. This case should serve as a reminder that it is vital to perform a proper skin examination in patients presenting with hyperglycemia. Ultimately in this case, the patient was intubated for airway protection and started on vasopressors for cardiovascular support in the setting of septic shock. She went into VTach arrest and was successfully defibrillated before further decompensating and becoming asystolic.
The first task after suspected diagnosis of Fournier’s Gangrene is a page to your surgery service for evaluation and emergent debridement in the OR (depending on your institution this may be general surgery, urology, or both). After your patient is on the path to definitive management, you can begin aggressive fluid administration and broad-spectrum antibiotics (gram-positive, gram-negative, and anaerobic coverage needed).
Fournier’s Gangrene is a clinical diagnosis. Imaging may assist in atypical or borderline cases, but should never result in delay of surgical evaluation and treatment. Crepitus and ecchymotic tissue are very late findings; have high clinical suspicion inpatients with signs of swelling, erythema, and pain.
Singh A, Ahmed K, Aydin A, Khan MS, Dasgupta P. Fournier’s gangrene. A clinical review. Arch Ital Urol Androl. 2016 Oct 5;88(3):157-164. doi: 10.4081/aiua.2016.3.157. PMID: 27711086.
Sarani B, Strong M, Pascual J, Schwab CW. Necrotizing fasciitis: current concepts and review of the literature. J Am Coll Surg. 2009 Feb;208(2):279-88. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2008.10.032. Epub 2008 Dec 12. PMID: 19228540.
Tintinalli JE, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Stapczynski J, Cline DM, Thomas SH. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9e. McGraw Hill; 2020. p.592- 593.