Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy may be a useful adjunct in the treatment of patients with wounds associated with critical limb ischemia. These patients either cannot undergo a successful bypass or may not heal after vascular reconstruction alone. Identification of patients likely to benefit from HBO is essential before treatment, as this therapy is time-consuming, costly, and not without risk. Transcutaneous oxygen measurements (TCOM) can be used to evaluate the degree of hypoxia in ischemic tissue. In this study we evaluated whether TCOM could be used to identify those patients who would or would not benefit from HBO therapy. Our hypothesis is that a difference in transcutaneous oxygen tension readings measured near the ischemic lesion with the patient breathing room air and while breathing 100 per cent oxygen at ambient pressure may be predictive of wound healing with adjunctive hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Thirty-six patients with critical limb ischemia and nonhealing ulcers were referred for HBO therapy. They were deemed either nonreconstructible from a vascular surgical viewpoint, had failed prior revascularization attempts, or could not achieve complete wound healing even after a successful revascularization. Pretreatment assessment included a room air and post-100 per cent-O2 challenge TCOM reading obtained in the vicinity of the open wound. Hyperbaric oxygen treatments at 2.0 to 2.5 atm were then administered until healing occurred or failure was confirmed. All patients undergoing HBO had a baseline TCOM of <40 torr. Twenty-seven patients had an increase in TCOM of >10 torr with oxygen inhalation at initial evaluation. Of these patients, 19 (70%) healed their wounds with HBO therapy. Conversely the increase in TCOM was <10 torr in nine patients, and only one of these patients (11%) ultimately healed (P < 0.01). Patients with nonhealing ischemic extremity wounds may heal with adjunctive HBO therapy. We can predictably identify patients who are likely to benefit from this modality using TCOM at the time of initial evaluation. An increase of tissue O2 tension of > or =10 torr when breathing pure O2 suggests that the patient may benefit from HBO therapy. Those patients with an increase of <10 torr are unlikely to receive benefit from this treatment modality.