What is gas gangrene?

Gas gangrene is a rapid-spreading and possibly dangerous form of gangrene brought about by the Clostridium perfringens bacteria. The infection causes toxins to form in the cells, tissues and blood vessels. The bacteria releases toxins that lead to tissue death and release gas. In some cases, it can be triggered by the group A streptococcus bacteria.

Most cases occur in cases where open wounds from surgery or injuries are exposed to bacteria. This type of gangrene can develop on any part of the body, but typically affects the legs or arms.

Gas gangrene is a rare condition but can become a dangerous infection if not treated. Call for emergency assistance or bring the individual to the nearest emergency department if symptoms are present.

Indications

gas-gangrene
Most cases occur in cases where open wounds from surgery or injuries are exposed to bacteria.
  • Fever
  • Pain and swelling in the area surrounding the wound
  • Buildup of air beneath the skin
  • Swelling in the area
  • Pale skin that rapidly turns gray, dark red, purple or black
  • Vomiting
  • Blisters with foul-smelling drainage
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Yellowish eyes and skin (jaundice) which is a late sign

The condition can rapidly spread that there are evident changes in the skin of the affected area in just a few minutes.

Management

The treatment for gas gangrene must be started right away. When a diagnosis is made, a high dose of antibiotics is given intravenously.

For severe cases, it might be required to start treatment before diagnostic tests are done. The dead or infected tissue should be removed surgically. The doctor might attempt to fix the damaged blood vessels to improve the blood flow to the affected area.

Reconstructive surgery or skin graft might be done on the damaged tissues. The doctor will remove healthy skin from an unaffected body part and attach it over the damaged region. This aims in restoring any skin damage.

In severe cases of gas gangrene, amputation of the affected limb might be required to prevent the spread of infection. The individual is fitted with a prosthetic limb once the wound has fully healed.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy might be used to treat gas gangrene. The individual breathes in pure oxygen while inside a pressurized chamber for around 90 minutes. The treatment is done 2-3 times in a day. The treatment steadily increases the amount of oxygen in the blood to allow infected wounds to heal rapidly.

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