A rare but life-threatening type of gangrene (tissue death), often due to infection by the bacterium clostridium perfringens. This organism thrives in anaerobic environments, where there is no or little oxygen, such as dying tissue. Gas gangrene will develop suddenly and usually will occur at the site of a recent serious wound. The bacteria then multiple in the wounded tissue, creating toxins that release a gas, and spread extremely rapidly to healthy tissue.
The affected area is painful and swollen, and reddish brown or pale in colour. Gas collects in the tissues, creating a crackling sensation in the area. Other symptoms that arise early in the infection include fever, sweating and anxiety. If left untreated, the condition can lead to shock, coma, kidney failure and possibly even death.
Penicillin drugs kill the bacteria at the edges of the gangrene, but all of the diseased tissue needs to be surgically removed. Amputation of an infected limb can be needed, in certain cases, to control the spread of infection. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment, in which the affected person is exposed to oxygen at a high pressure, can help to destroy the bacteria.