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What Is Gas Gangrene?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2016
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Gas gangrene is the death of bodily tissues that is caused by a bacterial infection. The bacteria stimulate muscle tissues to produce gas as well as toxins that cause a person's tissues to decay and die. Unfortunately, this condition is potentially fatal and usually requires surgery to remove the damaged tissue. Sometimes it is necessary to amputate the person's limbs as well. Strong antibiotics may also be used as part of the treatment regimen.

When a person has gas gangrene, bacteria have infected his muscle tissue and begun to cause the death of the affected tissues. Unfortunately, this condition can spread rather quickly and lead to the death of the patient if it is not aggressively treated. This condition is not common in most developed countries. Still, it affects several thousand people each year in the United States alone.

Gas gangrene typically develops because of an infection with a bacterium called Clostridium perfringens. It usually develops after a person has suffered some sort of serious injury to the area, such as a deep wound that affects the muscle tissue, especially one that has been contaminated, or an open fracture. It can also develop in a person who has frostbite or after a contaminated needle puncture in the affected person's muscle. In many cases, a person also could develop this condition after a surgical procedure.

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The symptoms of gas gangrene include severe pain and swollen, discolored tissue. When a person initially develops gas gangrene, the skin in the affected area may appear more pale than usual. After a time, however, it might become reddened and take on a brownish look. Eventually, the affected person's skin likely will develop a blackish, greenish coloring.

This condition also causes blisters that have gas inside them, and an individual may even feel gas bubbles under the surface of his skin. In many cases, fluid will drain from the affected tissues and the wound will emit a bad smell. The patient may also develop a fever and yellowing of the whites of his eyes and skin.

Treatment for gas gangrene is aggressive and usually includes potent antibiotics and surgery to remove decayed tissue. Depending on the areas that are affected and the extent of the condition, amputation may be required as well. Swift treatment is critical, as an affected person may die within a mere two days without it. Sadly, even some of those who are treated may die regardless.

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