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Wound Infection

What is a wound infection?

A wound infection is when bacteria enter a break in the skin.

What increases my risk for a wound infection?

Anything that decreases your body's ability to heal wounds may put you at risk for a wound infection. This includes any of the following:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, or liver, kidney or lung conditions slow healing.

  • Foreign objects such as glass or metal can get stuck in the wound and delay healing.

  • Poor blood supply to the wound increases your risk for infection. Blood flow may be decreased by high blood pressure, and blocked or narrowed blood vessels. Your risk also increases if you smoke, or have blood vessel problems or a heart condition.

  • Repeated trauma to a healing wound may increase your risk for an infection, and delay healing.

  • A weak immune system caused by radiation, poor nutrition, or certain medicines increases your risk for an infection.

What are the signs and symptoms of a wound infection?

  • Fever

  • Warm, red, painful, swollen wound

  • Blood or pus coming from the wound

  • Foul odor coming from the wound

  • Dizziness or a fast heartbeat

How is a wound infection diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your medical history and examine you. He will ask how and when you were wounded. You may have any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests may be done to check for infection.

  • X-rays may be done to look for broken bones, other injuries, or objects stuck in the skin.

  • A CT or MRI scan may be used to take pictures of the bones and tissues in your wound area. They may be done to look for infection or other problems such as a foreign object in your wound. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

  • A wound culture is a test of fluid or tissue used to find the cause of your infection.

How is a wound infection treated?

Treatment will depend on how severe the wound is, its location, and whether other areas are affected. It may also depend on your health and the length of time you have had the wound. Ask your caregiver about these and other treatments you may need:

  • Wound cleaning may be done with soap and water to wash away germs and decrease the risk for infection. Your caregiver may cut open a part of the affected area to clean it better. The wound may be rinsed with sterile water. Germ-killing solutions may also be used. Objects, dirt, or dead tissue from the wound will be removed with debridement (surgical cleaning). Wet bandages may be placed inside the wound and left to dry. Other wet or dry dressings may also be used. Your caregiver may also drain the wound to clean out pus.

  • Antibiotics help fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.

  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • The inside of your wound is dark or bright red.

  • You have more pain, redness, or swelling in your wound.

  • Your swelling does not go away after 5 days.

  • You have new drainage or a bad odor coming from the wound.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Blood soaks through your bandages.

  • You have severe pain.

  • The skin around your wound is numb.

  • You cannot move one of your limbs below the wound area.

  • You develop blisters, or your skin starts to peel or change color.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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