This disease is caused when bacteria in the family of Clostridium (e.g., Clostridium perfringens) infects the body tissue.

Clostridium bacteria are ‘anaerobic’ meaning that they prefer low oxygen concentrations to grow. If clostridium are exposed to high amounts of oxygen, their replication, migration, and exotoxin production can be inhibited. This is the rationale for the use of hyperbaric oxygen in the treatment of gas gangrene. Repeated treatment in the hyperbaric chamber has the potential to slow the progress of the infection while the two primary therapies, antibiotics and surgical resection of infected tissue, control it.

The advantages of hyperbaric oxygen treatment in gas gangrene are two-fold. First, it may be life-saving because exotoxin production is rapidly halted and less heroic surgery may be needed in gravely ill patients. Second, it may be limb and tissue-saving, possibly preventing limb amputation that might otherwise be necessary.