Infected incision: What are the indications?

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A surgical incision is always at risk for infection if not properly cared for. The chief indications of an infected incision include fever, pain and changes in the appearance of the incision and adjacent skin.

If infection develops after surgery, it can result to increasing pain, extended stay in the healthcare facility and even life-threatening illnesses.

Signs and symptoms of an infected incision

Oozing, bleeding or discharge

After surgery, there is a watery liquid that oozes out from the incision. This fluid is usually transparent or light yellow but might also have a pinkish tinge in some cases. Remember that it is normal to have minimal oozing, particularly in the initial stages after major surgery.

Discharge of other liquid from the incision indicates an infection. The infection due to staphylococcus can cause a grayish-white drainage from the incision. When it comes to Pseudomonas, it causes a greenish discharge that has a foul odor. If bleeding occurs, it also indicates an underlying infection.

Increasing or unusual pain

Infected incision
A certain degree of pain in the incision site is relatively normal. It is also normal for the pain to increase while moving or stretching.

A certain degree of pain in the incision site is relatively normal. It is also normal for the pain to increase while moving or stretching. After surgery, pain medications can reduce the discomfort.

In case the pain is troublesome, it indicates an infection. The infection process triggers the release of chemicals that initiates pain, thus new or increasing pain is an issue for concern.

Alterations to the surrounding skin

Once bacteria are present in the surgical incision, the adjacent blood vessels enlarge to fight it off, thus making the skin appear reddened. Any redness that spreads more than 2 inches away from the wound is an issue for concern.

The ensuing infection also stretches the skin, particularly at the perimeters. If this becomes severe, the staples or stitches might give away, thus causing the wound to open.

Fever and warmth

An inflamed, infected incision can be warm to the touch. This can be checked by using the back of your hands or fingers. Fever can also occur that can be accompanied by poor appetite, tiredness, rapid breathing and heart rate.

When to seek medical care

A doctor should be consulted if there is intense pain around the surgical incision, especially if it is getting worse. This indicates that pain medications are needed or it is a sign of infection or another complication.

Disclaimer / More Information

The information posted on this page on an infected incision is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to provide proper wound care for an infected incision, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada.

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