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What Are the Signs of an Incision Infection?

By Bethany Keene
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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After a surgical procedure, it is very important to frequently check the incision for signs of an infection, which could potentially cause illness or even death if it spreads throughout the system. The most common signs and symptoms of an incision infection are increased swelling and redness, heat to the touch, and drainage of pus. Pain will also likely increase with an infection. Two of the signs that an incision infection is spreading is fever and general fatigue, as well as red streaks spreading outward from the site of the incision. If this occurs, immediate emergency treatment with antibiotics is required.

Following surgery, it is common and normal for the incision to be painful to the touch -- though it is important to avoid touching it as much as possible to avoid introducing bacteria into the wound -- and slightly swollen and red. These symptoms should begin to lessen fairly quickly, however, and should never get worse. If the incision is getting more and more painful, if redness is increasing, or it is getting more swollen or even feels hard to the touch, this may indicate an infection. Under normal circumstances, an incision will also not be much warmer than the skin around it; however, an infected incision will frequently feel quite warm to the touch.

Another common sign of an incision infection is pus or discharge from the wound, often of a yellowish or greenish color. An incision should normally be clean and dry after the first day or so, but if this is not the case, it is likely becoming infected. If any of these symptoms occur, it is important to tell the surgeon as soon as possible; he or she will likely prescribe antibiotics to take care of the infection before it becomes systemic. The signs of a systemic infection, or one that is in danger of becoming so, are extremely important to recognize as well.

An incision infection that is spreading will generally have red streaks spreading outward from it. This indicates that the infection is entering the bloodstream, which is quite dangerous. In addition, a fever and a general feeling of fatigue often accompanies this type of infection as well. If this occurs, it is important not to wait, but to seek immediate emergency medical care. Generally, intravenous (IV) antibiotics will be necessary in order to treat it. If a systemic infection is not immediately treated, it can very quickly become fatal.

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Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Apr 10, 2013

Discharge apparently doesn't always mean an infection. I had some clear discharge with my surgical incision. I went to my doctor thinking it was an infection but he said that it's normal.

He told me to worry only if the discharge is a greenish color and has a foul odor. He said I should also worry if I see blood or blood in the discharge.

I'm relieved because I heard that if there is an infection, they have to cut open the incision again to clean the infection. I surely didn't want to go through that.

By ysmina — On Apr 09, 2013

@fBoyle-- Do you also have swelling, redness or discharge?

Does it feel hot or uncomfortable?

I think itching by itself is not a sign of an infection. While the incision is healing, it may cause some itching. But if you also have some of the other symptoms accompanying it, then it might be an infection. Have it checked out by your doctor in that case.

By fBoyle — On Apr 09, 2013

Is itching a sign of infection?

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