Gas gangrene can develop in any part of the body, but usually on the legs or the arms. Gangrene involves death of the body tissue typically caused by a bacterial infection from the Clostridium bacteria. This infection causes toxins to form in the cells, tissues and blood vessels in the body. The bacteria releases toxins that causes tissue death and release a gas.
Most cases of gangrene infections occur in scenarios in which open wounds from an injury or surgical procedure are exposed to bacteria. The non-traumatic gas gangrene is considered as a rare type that can develop once the flow of blood to the body tissues is disrupted and bacteria has infiltrated. Those who have peripheral vascular disease, diabetes or atherosclerosis face a higher risk.
What are the indications?
The symptoms of gas gangrene usually develop 6-48 hours after the initial infection and rapidly progress. In most cases, the skin in the affected area turns pale and later on changes to a darkened red or purple appearance. The indications of gas gangrene often include the following:
- Pain in the area surrounding the wound
- Air beneath the skin
- Swelling in the area surrounding the wound
- Excessive sweating
- Blisters with foul drainage
- Pale-looking skin that rapidly becomes gray, dark reddish, purplish or black
- Elevated heart rate
- Yellowish skin and eyes (late sign)
Remember that the condition rapidly spreads that you can see evident changes in the skin of the affected area in just a few minutes.
Once these symptoms are present, call for emergency assistance or bring the individual to the nearest emergency department right away.
Management of gas gangrene
The treatment must be started right away. Once a diagnosis is given, antibiotics in high doses are administered intravenously. In severe cases, it might be required to start treatment before diagnostic tests are carried out.
The infected or dead tissue are removed surgically as soon as possible. The doctor will also attempt to fix the damaged blood vessel to improve the flow of blood to the affected area.
The damaged tissues can also be managed using a type of reconstructive surgery called skin grafting. During this procedure, the doctor takes away healthy skin from an unaffected body part and attached over the damaged area. This restores any skin damage caused by the gangrene.
As for severe cases of gas gangrene, amputation might be needed to prevent the infection from spreading to the rest of the body. When the wound has healed, it is fitted with a prosthetic limb.
In some cases, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is also used to manage gas gangrene. This therapy involves breathing in pure oxygen while inside a pressurized chamber for about 90 minutes with 2-3 treatments in a day. The therapy works by steadily increasing the quantity of oxygen in the blood, thus allowing the infected cuts to heal rapidly.