Lymphangitis is an infection of the lymph vessels. Lymph vessels are part of the immune system. They, along with lymph nodes and ducts, help carry infected fluids away from the site of an infection.
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Lymphangitis is caused by bacteria.
It usually 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 multiply. The growth causes the infection.
Factors that may increase the chances of lymphangitis include:
- Injury to the skin
- Having a bacterial skin infection
Symptoms may include:
- Redness or red streaks on the skin
- Warmth at the site of the infection
- Fever or chills
- Fluids or pus leaking from the affected area
- Swollen glands
- Malaise—general feeling of illness
You will be asked 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 or fluid culture
- Skin biopsy and cultures
Lymphangitis indicates a spread of the infection. Treatment is important to keep the infection from spreading into the blood.
Your doctor may advise medications such as:
- Antibiotics to treat infection
- Over-the-counter medications to reduce swelling and pain
Warm compresses may also be advised to reduce swelling and pain.
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.
- Keep your fingernails clipped short and 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.
American Academy of Dermatology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Dermatology Association
Lymphangitis. University of Maryland Medical Center website. Available at: http://umm.edu/health/medical/ency/articles/lymphangitis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Lymphangitis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/bacterial-skin-infections/lymphangitis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 1/29/2021