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Lymphangitis

Definition

Lymphangitis is an infection of lymph vessels. Lymph vessels are part of the immune system. They help carry infected fluids away from the site of an infection.
Lymphatic Vessels
IMAGE
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Lymphangitis is caused by bacteria.
It starts with a bacterial skin infection. When the lymph vessels start to carry fluids away from the infection, the bacteria can move into the lymph vessels and begin to grow. The growth causes the infection.

Risk Factors

Risk factors include:
  • Injury to the skin
  • Having a bacterial skin infection

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:
  • Redness or red streaks on the skin
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Warmth at the site of the infection
  • Fever or chills
  • Fluids or pus leaking from the affected area
  • Swollen glands

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is often made on appearance alone.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested to determine the exact type of bacteria causing the infection. This can be done with:
  • Blood culture
  • Skin biopsy and cultures

Treatment

Lymphangitis indicates a spread of the infection. Treatment is important to keep the infection from spreading into the blood.
Your doctor may recommend:
  • Antibiotics to treat infection
  • Over-the-counter medications to treat swelling and reduce pain
  • Warm compresses to reduce swelling and pain

Prevention

Lymphangitis is usually caused by spread from a skin infection. If you have a skin infection, follow your doctor’s treatment plan.
To reduce your risk of getting a skin infection:
  • Keep your skin clean.
  • Apply lotion to dry skin.
  • Take steps to avoid injury to the skin:
    • Wear protective gear in sports.
    • Wear long-sleeved shirts when hiking.
    • Wear sandals when at the beach, rather than going barefoot.
    • Be careful around animals. Treat pets with respect to avoid bites.
  • Do not swim in natural waters if you have cuts or sores.
  • If a small cut, bite, or other injury occurs:
    • Clean cuts or scrapes with soap and water.
    • Apply antibiotic ointment.
    • Cover with a bandage or dressing.
    • Do not scratch wounds.
    • Call your doctor right away if the area becomes red or swollen.
  • Seek prompt medical care for larger wounds or bites.
  • If your legs tend to swell, elevate them several times a day.

RESOURCES

American Academy of Dermatology http://www.aad.org

American Academy of Family Physicians http://www.aafp.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Dermatology Association http://www.dermatology.ca

Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References

Information about skin infection. Akron Children’s Hospital website. Available at: https://www.akronchildrens.org/cms/conditions/f99b25a263661a51. Accessed January 21, 2014.

Lymphangitis. University of Minnesota Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.uofmmedicalcenter.org/healthlibrary/Article/116272EN. Accessed January 21, 2014.

Revision Information

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