Lymphangitis

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

Causes of Lymphangitis

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.

Lymphangitis Symptoms

  • Chills
  • Enlarged and tender lymph nodes (glands) -- usually in the elbow, armpit, or groin
  • Fever
  • 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

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 of Lymphangitis

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.

Prognosis (Outlook)

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.

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: 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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