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Complications of Cellulitis and Lymphangitis


Cellulitis and Lymphangitis

For those of us with lymphedema, this is often our worst nightmare and sends us to the hospital more than anything else regarding lymphedema. In this section there are many detailed articles on cellulitis, complications of and treatment for cellulitis and/or lymphangitis.


Acute Cellulitis

Acute Cellulitis is one of the complications of lymphedema. The patient may not be aware of the source of the etiology. Sometimes it may be a cut, mosquito bite, open wound or other infection in the body.

The first sign is increased or different quality of PAIN involving the lymphedema limb. The patients often describe this as a "flu like symptom or an ache" involving the Lymphedema arm or leg. This is usually followed by sudden onset of ERYTHEMA(redness, red streaks or blotches) on the involved limb. The HYPERTHERMIA(lymphedema limb becomes warm, hot) will follow and the patient may experience the CHILLS and even HIGH FEVER.

The early intervention and treatment with antibiotics will resolve this condition (it usually takes one week of antibiotics). Only a Medical Doctor will be able to prescribe the Antibiotics, thus a consultation with a Doctor is necessary. Severe Cellulitis may require Inter venous Antibiotic treatment and hospitalization. Again, elevation of the affected limb is important.

During that phase the patient should NOT massage the Lymphedema limb,apply commpression  bandages, use a compression pump, wear tight elastic sleeve or exercise excessively. Avoid the blood pressure and blood to be drawn from the involved arm. Keep the limb elevated as much as possible while resting. Once the symptoms dissipate the treatment MLD/CDP should be initiated.

How do we prevent this infection? The patient should be careful with daily activities and take all precautions to protect the skin (wear gloves when gardening, cleaning with detergents, etc... ). If an injury to skin occurs on the Lymphedema limb it is necessary to clean the wound with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide and apply Neosporin/Polysporin antibiotic ointment. If the symptoms progress seek the attention of a physician immediately. See also: Prevention of Cellulitis

Also, as I have mentioned numerous times, I encourage everyone to be under the care of an infectious disease doctor

Pat O'Connor

April 25, 2008


It is so very important to avoid getting cellulitus as it further
destroys the lymphatic system. Allowed to spread or continue it can become systemic and can lead to sepsis, gangrene, amputation of the limb or even death.


This article is taken from the Spring 2002 issue of LymphLine, the LSN's quarterly newsletter available to all LSN members

Watch point: The Importance of Antibiotics for Cellulitis

By Professor Peter Mortimer

Antibiotics are often recommended on a long term basis in patients who have recurrent attacks of cellulitis. The reason is quite simply because nothing else works (unless there has been a substantial improvement in the swelling following decongestive lymphatic therapy). Cellulitis results from the compromised local immunity within the swollen region (but not your overall body).

Treating with antibiotics as and when each attack of cellulitis occurs is a bit like 'shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted'! Each attack of cellulitis can not only make you ill but tends to cause a deterioration in the swelling and make the tissues (skin and underlying fat layer) harder (fibrotic). This does not help the long term control of the lymphoedema. Experience has shown that the best way of controlling recurrent attacks of cellulitis is with a low dose of antibiotic taken every day (usually penicillin or erythromycin). Unfortunately this approach, nor any other for that matter, may not necessarily cure the infection and an attack could start immediately if you inadvertently stop the antibiotic. Therefore please only comply with the recommendations made by your GP or lymphoedema therapist.

There is no reason to believe that long term antibiotics are harmful or affect your whole body's immunity. For decades penicillin has been given life long without a problem to patients who have had their spleen removed. Therefore safety seems assured providing you are not allergic.


Cellulitis Complications


Are there complications of cellulitis?

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria. The infection most often develops anywhere the skin has been broken—often from a cut, burn, or an insect bite. The infection spreads from the skin to underlying tissues. In severe cases, it can spread quickly, within hours or days. Cellulitis is usually not contagious.

What causes cellulitis?

Cellulitis is caused by bacteria, usually Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Facial cellulitis in children under 3 years of age is typically caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae.1 Some people are at risk for infection by other types of bacteria that result in cellulitis. At-risk groups include people with impaired immune systems and people who handle fish, meat, poultry, or soil without using gloves.

What increases my risk of cellulitis?

You may be at increased risk for cellulitis if you have:

What are the symptoms of cellulitis?

Cellulitis can cause tenderness, pain, swelling, and redness at the site of the infection. Fever and chills are also common. Cellulitis can occur anywhere on the body. In adults, it often occurs on the legs, face, or arms. In children, it commonly develops on the face or around the anus. Facial infection requires immediate medical attention; antibiotics can help prevent a potentially dangerous eye infection.

Are there complications of cellulitis?

Complications such as bacteremia (presence of bacteria in the blood) or sepsis (systemic inflammation in response to infection) can develop if the bacteria that causes cellulitis spreads quickly through the body. Facial cellulitis infection can spread to the brain (meningitis). Other complications, such as thrombophlebitis or, rarely, gangrene, can also develop. If you are an older adult, have certain medical conditions such as diabetes or peripheral vascular disease, or an impaired immune system, you are at increased risk for complications. You may also be at risk for recurrence of cellulitis.

How is cellulitis treated?

Antibiotics are the main treatment for cellulitis and are usually successful in curing the infection. Antibiotics can be taken either orally or intravenously (IV). If you have certain medical conditions that increase your risk for getting cellulitis, you can take antibiotics after a skin injury to help prevent the infection.

Author: Kathe Gallagher, MSW Last Updated May 22, 2003
Medical Review: Terry Golden, DO - Family Practice
Adam Husney, MD - Family Practice
W. David Colby, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease

-------- Short List of Possible Infections Complications----------

1.  Osteomyelitis (bone infection)

2. Meningitis (brain and spinal cord infection)

3. Lymphadenities (inflammation of the lymph vessels)

4. Sepsis (whole-body inflammatory state)

5. Abscesses (collection of pus in  the body)

6. Thrombophlebitis (vein inflammation related to a thrombosis)

7. Necrotizing Fasciitis (Infection that leads to the destruction of the musclature underlying skin)

8. Shock  (bodily collapse or near collapse)

9. Recurrence (return of cellulitis)

10.  Gangrene (tissue death)

---------External Links--------------------------------

Infectious Complications


Fact Sheets: Complications (Opportunistic Infections & Malignancies, Symptoms, and Side Effects)


Infectious Complications Infectious Complications of Body Piercing


Evolving Pattern of Laparoscopic Gastric Band Access Port Complications. Dec 2011


Infectious complications in adult acute myeloid leukemia: Analysis of the prospective multicenter clinical trial ALFA-9802. Dec 2011


* For more complete information and expanded database on cellulitis, lymphengitis, erysipelas and types of infections, causes, treatments please see the category Lymphedema Cellulitis, Lymphangitis *


Related Lymphedema People Medical Blogs and Pages:

Bacterial Infections



MRSA Information

Antibiotic Glossary

Antibiotic Therapy, Types of Antibiotics


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