Lymphangitis is an infection of the lymph vessels (channels). It is a complication of some bacterial infections.
The lymph system is a network of lymph nodes, lymph ducts, lymph vessels, and organs that produce and move a fluid called lymph from tissues to the bloodstream.
Lymphangitis most often results from an acute streptococcal infection of the skin. Less often, it is caused by a staphylococcal infection. The infection causes the lymph vessels to become inflamed.
Lymphangitis may be a sign that a skin infection is getting worse. The bacteria can spread into the blood, and cause life-threatening problems.
- Enlarged and tender lymph nodes (glands) -- usually in the elbow, armpit, or groin
- General ill feeling (malaise)
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle aches
- Red streaks from the infected area to the armpit or groin (may be faint or obvious)
- Throbbing pain along the affected area
Exams and Tests:
The doctor will perform a physical exam, which includes feeling your lymph nodes. The doctor may look for signs of injury around swollen lymph nodes.
A biopsy and culture of the affected area may reveal the cause of the inflammation. A blood culture may be done to see if the infection has spread to the blood.
Lymphangitis may spread within hours. Treatment should begin promptly.
Treatment may include:
- Antibiotics to treat any infection
- Pain medicine to control pain
- Anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce inflammation and swelling
- Warm, moist compresses to reduce inflammation and pain
Surgery may be needed to drain an abscess.
Prompt treatment with antibiotics usually leads to a complete recovery. It may take weeks, or even months, for swelling to disappear. The amount of time it takes to recover depends on the cause.
When to Contact a Medical Professional:
Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room if you have symptoms of lymphangitis.
Pasternack MS, Swartz MN. Lymphadenitis and lymphangitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone; 2009:chap 92.
|Review Date: 5/19/2013|
Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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