Lymphangitis is an infection of the lymph vessels (channels). It is a complication of some bacterial infections.
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 may include:
The doctor will perform a physical exam, which includes feeling your lymph nodes and examining your skin. 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.
Lymphangitis may spread within hours. Treatment should begin right away.
Treatment may include:
Surgery may be needed to drain an abscess.
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.
Health problems that may occur include:
Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room if you have symptoms of lymphangitis.
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, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.