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  • Definition
    • Lymphangitis is an infection of the lymph vessels (channels). It is a complication of some bacterial infections.

  • Alternative Names
    • Inflamed lymph vessels; Inflammation - lymph vessels; Infected lymph vessels; Infection - lymph vessels

  • Causes
    • 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.

  • Symptoms
    • Symptoms may include:

      • Fever and chills
      • Enlarged and tender lymph nodes (glands) -- usually in the elbow, armpit, or groin
      • General ill feeling (malaise)
      • Headache
      • 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.

  • Treatment
    • Lymphangitis may spread within hours. Treatment should begin right away.

      Treatment may include:

      • Antibiotics by mouth or IV (vein) 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.

  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • 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.

  • Possible Complications
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional
    • Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room if you have symptoms of lymphangitis.

  • References
    • Pasternack MS, Swartz MN. Lymphadenitis and lymphangitis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaseer MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 97.