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Lymphangitis

By

Wingfield E. Rehmus

, MD, MPH, University of British Columbia

Last full review/revision Apr 2021| Content last modified Apr 2021
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSONAL VERSION
Topic Resources

Lymphangitis is infection of one or more lymphatic vessels, usually caused by streptococci.

Lymph is a fluid that oozes out of the body's tiniest blood vessels. The fluid goes between cells and brings nourishment and carries away damaged cells, cancer cells, and infectious microorganisms. All lymph passes through lymphatic vessels to strategically placed lymph nodes. Lymph nodes filter damaged cells, cancer cells, and foreign particles out of the lymph. Special white blood cells in lymph nodes engulf and destroy damaged cells, cancer cells, infectious organisms, and foreign particles.

Symptoms

Red, irregular, warm, tender streaks develop on the skin in the affected arm or leg. The streaks usually stretch from the infected area toward a group of lymph nodes, such as those in the groin or armpit. The lymph nodes become enlarged and feel tender (see Lymphadenitis Lymphadenitis Lymphadenitis is infection of one or more lymph nodes, which usually become swollen and tender. (See also Overview of Bacterial Skin Infections.) Lymph is a fluid that oozes out of the body's... read more Lymphadenitis ).

Common symptoms of lymphangitis include a fever, shaking chills, a rapid heart rate, and a headache. Sometimes these symptoms occur before the red streaks appear. The spread of the infection from the lymph system into the bloodstream (bacteremia Bacteremia Bacteremia is the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream. Bacteremia may result from ordinary activities (such as vigorous toothbrushing), dental or medical procedures, or from infections ... read more ) can cause infection throughout the body, often with startling speed.

Diagnosis

  • A doctor's evaluation

The diagnosis of lymphangitis is based on its typical appearance.

If needed, a blood test usually shows that the number of white blood cells has increased to fight the infection.

Doctors have difficulty identifying the organisms causing the infection unless the organisms have spread through the bloodstream or pus can be taken from a wound in the affected area.

Treatment

  • Antibiotics

Most people recover quickly with antibiotics.

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