Gas Gangrene

What is it?

This is a severe form of tissue death caused by the Clostridium species of bacteria.

What are the causes?

These bacteria under conditions of low oxygen produces toxins that cause tissue death or gangrene. This occurs at the site of a wound in a sudden manner causing brownish-red, extremely painful swelling. The affected wounds are usually severely crushed and dirty. Gas may be felt in the tissue like a crackling feeling when the swollen area is pressed. The affected area expands rapidly and the involved tissue becomes completely destroyed. The toxins produced by the bacteria in addition to causing tissue death also cause destruction of the red blood cells and blocking and leaking of the blood vessels.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms include pain at the site of the injury, swelling, low grade fever, formation of blisters filled with reddish-brown fluid and seepage of fluid from the tissues. There may be sweating and anxiety. If untreated the individual develops a shock-like condition wherein his blood pressure falls, there may be kidney failure, coma and eventually death.

How is the diagnosis made?

Shock may be evident by the general pallor, cold extremities, low blood pressure and a rapid heart rate. Air may be felt in the tissues. Yellow skin colour or jaundice because of excessive breakdown of blood cells may be present. A tissue or fluid culture may reveal the Clostridium species. An X-ray, CT scan or MRI of the affected part may show gas in the tissues.

What is the treatment?

Prompt surgical removal of dead, damaged and infected tissue is necessary. Amputation of a limb may be urgently required to control the spread of infection. Antibiotics are given to treat the infection and analgesics for the control of pain.

What are the complications?

Permanent tissue damage causing disfiguring or disability. Kidney failure. Spread of infection through out the body (septicaemia). Coma. Jaundice with liver damage.

DoctorNDTV Team

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