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Gas gangrene
Classification and external resources

Photograph before right leg amputation (hemipelvectomy) of a patient with gas gangrene. The right thigh is swollen, edematous and discoloured with necrotic bullae (large blisters). An impressive crepitation is already palpable. At this juncture the patient is in shock.
ICD-10 A48.0
ICD-9 040.0
DiseasesDB 31141
eMedicine med/843 emerg/211 med/394
MeSH D005738

Gas gangrene (also known as "Clostridial myonecrosis"[1]:269) is a bacterial infection that produces gas within tissues in gangrene. It is a deadly form of gangrene usually caused by Clostridium bacteria. It is a medical emergency.



Gas gangrene can cause myonecrosis, gas production, and sepsis. Progression to toxemia and shock is often very rapid.


Gas gangrene is caused by exotoxin-producing Clostridial species (most often Clostridium perfringens, and C novyi[2] but less commonly C. septicum[3] or C. ramnosum[4]), which are mostly found in soil but also found as normal gut flora, and other anaerobes (e.g. Bacteroides and anaerobic streptococci). The exotoxin is commonly found in C. perfringens type A strain and is known as alpha toxin. These environmental bacteria may enter the muscle through a wound and go on to proliferate in necrotic tissue and secrete powerful toxins. These toxins destroy nearby tissue, generating gas at the same time.

Other organisms may rarely cause gas gangrene (for example, Klebsiella pneumoniae in the context of diabetes).[5]

A gas composition of 5.9% hydrogen, 3.4% carbon dioxide, 74.5% nitrogen and 16.1% oxygen was reported in one clinical case.[6]


Treatment is usually debridement and excision with amputation necessary in many cases. Antibiotics alone are not effective because they do not penetrate ischaemic muscles enough to be effective. However, penicillin is given as an adjuvant treatment to surgery. In addition to surgery and antibiotics, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is used and acts to inhibit the growth of and kill the anaerobic C. perfringens.[7][8]

Additional images

Macroscopic and microscopic findings from a patient who died from intestinal (bowel) gas gangrene.
(a) Macroscopic picture of the edematous intestinal wall with multiple submucosal and subserosal cysts. (b) Histological picture of the intestinal mucosa with non-reactive necrosis. (c) Gram stain of cysts with large rod-shaped bacteria. (d) Electron microscopic picture of a bacterium found in a submucosal cyst.

See also


  1. ^ James, William D.; Berger, Timothy G.; et al. (2006). Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: clinical Dermatology. Saunders Elsevier. ISBN 0-7216-2921-0.  
  2. ^ Hatheway C. L. 1990 Toxigenic Clostridia. Clon Microbiol Rev 366-98
  3. ^ Bratton SL, Krane EJ, Park JR, Burchette S (1992). "Clostridium septicum infections in children". Pediatr Infect Dis J 11 (7): 569–75. PMID 1528648.  
  4. ^ van der Vorm ER, von Rosenstiel IA, Spanjaard L, Dankert J (1999). Gas gangrene in an immunocompromised girl due to a Clostridium ramnosum infection. 28. pp. 923–924.  
  5. ^ Chang C-W, Wang MD T-E, Shih S-C, Chang W-H, Chen M-J (2008). "Shortness of breath, fever—and pain in both legs". Lancet 372 (9648): 1518. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61621-9. PMID 18970978.  
  6. ^ ^ Chi CH, Chen KW, Huang JJ, Chuang YC, Wu MH (1995). "Gas composition in Clostridium septicum gas gangrene". J Formos Med Assoc 94 (12): 757–9. PMID 8541740.  
  7. ^ Hart GB, Strauss MB (1990). "Gas Gangrene - Clostridial Myonecrosis: A Review". J. Hyperbaric Med 5 (2): 125–144. Retrieved 2008-05-16.  
  8. ^ Zamboni WA, Riseman JA, Kucan JO (1990). "Management of Fournier's Gangrene and the role of Hyperbaric Oxygen". J. Hyperbaric Med 5 (3): 177–186. Retrieved 2008-05-16.  


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