Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in acute necrotizing infections. With a special reference to the effects on tissue gas tensions

Ann Chir Gynaecol. 2000;89 Suppl 214:7-36.


Clostridial gas gangrene and perineal necrotizing fasciitis or Fournier's gangrene are rare but serious infections with an acute onset, rapid progression, systemic toxemia and a high mortality rate. The aim of this study was to investigate the efficacy of surgery, antibiotic treatment, surgical intensive care and in particular the role of hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) in the management of these infections. An experimental rat model was used to investigate the possibilities for measuring tissue oxygen and carbon dioxide tensions during hyperbaric oxygen treatment. In addition to this preliminary experimental study, Silastic tube tonometer and capillary sampling techniques were tested to measure the effect of hyperbaric oxygen treatment on subcutaneous oxygen and carbon dioxide tensions in patients with necrotizing fasciitis and healthy controls. Between January 1971 and April 1997, 53 patients with Clostridial gas gangrene were treated in the Department of Surgery, University of Turku. The patients underwent surgical debridement, broad spectrum antibiotic therapy and a series of hyperbaric oxygen treatments at 2.5 atmospheres absolute pressure (ATA). Twelve patients died (22.6%). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in gas gangrene seems to be life-, limb- and tissue saving. Early diagnosis remains essential. Patient survival can be improved if the disease is recognized early and appropriate therapy instituted promptly. Between February 1971 and September 1996, 33 patients with perineal necrotizing fasciitis were treated in the Department of Surgery, University of Turku. The management included surgical debridement of the necrotic tissue with incisions and drainage of the involved areas, antibiotic therapy, hyperbaric oxygen treatment at 2.5 ATA pressure and surgical intensive care. Three patients died giving a mortality rate of 9.1%. The survivors received hyperbaric oxygen therapy for 2-12 times. Our results indicate that hyperbaric oxygenation is an important therapeutic adjunct in the treatment of Fournier's gangrene. Electrical equipment should not be used unsheltered in a hyperbaric chamber due to the increased risk of fire. The subcutaneous tissue gas tensions of rats were therefore measured using a subcutaneously implanted Silastic tube tonometer and a capillary sampling technique. The method was succesfully adapted to hyperbaric conditions. The subcutaneous oxygen tension levels increased five fold and the carbon dioxide tension levels two fold compared to intial levels. The PO2 and PCO2 of subcutaneous tissue and arterial blood were measured directly in six patients with necrotizing fasciitis and three healthy volunteers in normobaric conditions and during hyperbaric oxygen exposure at 2.5 ATA pressure. The measurements were carried out in healthy tissue and at the same time in the vicinity of the infected area of the patients. During HBO at 2.5 ATA subcutaneous oxygen tensions increased several fold from baseline values and carbon dioxide tensions also increased, but to a lesser degree in both healthy and infected tissues. When examining the subcutaneous PO2 levels measured from patients with necrotizing fasciitis, the PO2 was regularly higher in the vicinity of the infected area than in healthy tissue. In general, HBO treatment resulted in a marked increase in tissue oxygenation in both healthy tissue and in the vicinity of infected tissue. The hyperoxygenated tissue zone surrounding the infected area may be of significance in preventing the extension of invading microorganisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Clostridium perfringens / isolation & purification*
  • Fasciitis, Necrotizing / microbiology
  • Fasciitis, Necrotizing / therapy*
  • Finland
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gas Gangrene / diagnosis
  • Gas Gangrene / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome