Home General Medicine Gas Gangrene: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Gas Gangrene: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Gas gangrene is a deadly form of tissue death. It usually develops in case of deep, penetrating wounds.

What is gas gangrene?

Gangrene refers to the death of tissues in a part of body due to disruption of the blood supply to the affected area. Gas gangrene, a fast-spreading and potentially life-threatening type of gangrene, results from a bacterial infection from Clostridium bacteria. The infection leads to the formation of toxins in the cells, blood vessels and tissues of the body. These bacteria releases toxins that causes the death of tissue and release a gas.

Gas gangrene leads to muscle tissue death, gas production and spread of infection through the body. It is also known as clostridial myonecrosis or myonecrosis. This usually develops in deep crushing or penetrating wounds like war wounds, which are improperly cleansed.

Causes for gas gangrene

Gas gangrene is usually caused by bacterium Clostridium perfringens , which grows only in the absence of oxygen, or is caused by group-A streptococcus. It usually develops suddenly and occurs at the site of trauma or recent wound. Patients with underlying blood vessel disease atherosclerosis, diabetes or colon cancer are at risk of developing gas gangrene.

Post-traumatic gas gangrene can occur due to trauma arising from crush injuries, compound fractures and gunshot wounds.

Post-operative clostridial infection after a ruptured appendix, bowel perforation, colon resection etc. can also lead to gas gangrene.

Symptoms of Gas Gangrene

Symptoms in gas gangrene begin quickly:

1. Painful swelling. Skin turns pale to brownish red

2. Blisters develop and are filled with brown red fluid

3. Heaviness in affected extremity.

4. Increased heart rate

5. Fever

6. Sweating

7. Vesicle formation which combine into large blisters

8. Yellow colour of the skin

Diagnosing Gas Gangrene

1. Skin culture test to determine the presence of Clostridium perfringens as well as other bacteria

2. Blood tests to look for an abnormally high white blood cell count that can indicate an infection

3. Imaging tests like a routine X-ray, to look at tissues and check for the presence of gas; or special studies like MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or arteriogram

4. Surgery to assess the spread of gas gangrene within the body

Treatment for Gas Gangrene

1. Debridement, a surgical procedure to remove dead, damaged and infected tissues is performed.

2. Amputation, which is the surgical removal of arm or leg, is sometimes done to prevent the spread of infection.

3. Antibiotics are given to control the infection.

4. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat Clostridium perfringens infection.

5. Repairing damaged blood vessels to improve flow of blood to the affected area.

6. Performing a type of reconstructive surgery called skin graft to treat damaged tissues. During a skin graft, your physician will remove healthy skin from an unaffected part of the body and attach the same over the damaged area. This helps in restoring any skin damage caused by gas gangrene.

7. Sometimes septic abortion can lead to the development of uterine gas gangrene, and it requires removal of the uterus.

Prognosis for Gas Gangrene

Usually, gas gangrene has a poor prognosis and is often deadly. Symptoms begin suddenly and worsen. Prognosis is good if the incubation period is less than 30 hours. Advanced age and presence of comorbid symptoms are associated with poor prognosis.

Gas Gangrene complications

1. Shock

2. Kidney failure

3. Delirium

4. Liver damage

5. Spread of infection through the body.

6. Disseminated intravascular coagulation

7. Acute respiratory distress syndrome

8. Coma

9. Mental confusion

Preventing Gas Gangrene

Any skin injury should be cleaned thoroughly. Appropriate antibiotic therapy should be given.

Making some lifestyle changes can also help reducing your risk for gas gangrene. These include:

1. Caring for existing health conditions like diabetes or arterial disease properly

2. Avoiding tobacco products

3. Maintaining a healthy weight by working out regularly and eating a healthy diet that mainly consists of vegetables, whole grains and lean protein

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