A seroma is a deposit of lymph formed in the body in response to surgery or physical trauma. These deposits are very common after surgery and they often resolve on their own. If a deposit is large or causes discomfort, it can be drained by a care provider. This side effect is especially common after mastectomies or procedures where lymph nodes are removed.
Surgery causes trauma to the blood and lymph vessels as well as surrounding tissue. In response, the body floods the surgical site with lymph and an inflammatory response occurs, explaining the pain and swelling that occur after surgery. Sometimes, the lymph forms a pocket instead of naturally draining away, and this leads to the formation of a seroma. Patients may be warned about the possibility of developing a lymph buildup after surgery and are usually advised to keep a close eye on the surgical site for developing abnormalities and complications.
Seromas are filled with serous fluid, a yellowish to white fluid that can also be seen in blisters and around fresh cuts. They take the form of lumps under the skin and can be tested to confirm they contain serous fluid and not pus, blood, or other fluid buildups that would be cause for concern. If allowed to heal naturally, the body will slowly reabsorb the fluid over a period ranging from a month to a year. The site may experience some calcification and hardening can be palpable after the seroma heals.
Doctors may recommend draining if a seroma is causing discomfort. This is done by creating a puncture site to express or draw out the fluid. It is not uncommon for drained seromas to fill back up again and it may be necessary to fit a patient with a drainage tube or to use multiple drainage sessions to keep emptying the area. Drainage increases the risk of infection and must be performed with clean tools in a clean environment to avoid introducing bacteria to the body.
When a seroma is identified by a patient or care provider, the patient may be presented with some treatment options including drainage or leaving the pocket of fluid alone. For cancer patients, one concern with seromas is that they can delay additional cancer treatments while a treatment plan is developed to address them. This can increase the amount of time the patient spends in treatment in addition to altering the prognosis, as every day can count when it comes to cancer treatment.
How To Help a Seroma Reabsorb Naturally
A few natural treatment methods are often effective for healing a seroma at home. Most seromas will not require the assistance of a medical professional but should be monitored carefully to avoid any additional problems like infection. Begin the seroma healing process by trying the following:
1. Applying Heat
Heat is an excellent form of treatment for promoting the reabsorption of a seroma. Heat typically causes the blood vessels to widen, known as vasodilation. It also can assist in stimulating the flow of blood and lymph fluid around the seroma site. Not only does better blood flow carry healing properties, including the formation of tissue, but widened blood vessels facilitate the reabsorption process, making it easier for the seroma serum to drain into the vessels. Apply heat by dipping a towel or gauze pack into a bowl of clean, warm water. Wring out the excess water. Then, apply the moist material to the irritated area. When the material loses its heat, dip it into the warm water again and repeat the process. Do this a few times each day, for 10 or 15 minutes at a time.
2. Getting Frequent Massages
Getting massages frequently has a similar effect as applying heat via a warm compress; both methods stimulate blood flow. Massages also benefit the lymphatic system, which plays an essential role in seroma serum reabsorption. Ideally, you will use a warm compress simultaneously as the massage. It is best to only touch the actual site of the seroma with the warm compress material, not your bare hands. Only massage the area around the seroma.
3. Applying Controlled Pressure
Applying controlled pressure means compressing the seroma to continuously put a moderate amount of pressure on the seroma site for a while. Compression helps physically push the seroma serum down into the body to drain, thereby being reabsorbed. Wearing compression garments can be an excellent way to apply a consistent amount of pressure for a certain amount of time. Just make sure that it is not too tight; something too tight could decrease blood circulation to the affected area, which will only do more damage. You can find medical-grade compression garments at pharmacy stores or ask your doctor for a suggestion.
If you are going to develop a seroma, you will likely notice it after surgery approximately seven to 10 days after removing the drainage tubes. If you have a smaller seroma, it will probably drain on its own without the need for you to take any action. When a seroma drains, the serum goes through a process in which the skin or surrounding tissues slowly reabsorb it. If you have a larger seroma that doesn't appear to be getting any smaller, it's probably time to begin special treatment to help it drain. If it is not appropriately drained within a certain amount of time, it can lead to forming a hard knot, which is a result of an accumulation of calcium in the location of the seroma. Although not required for most seromas, you can follow specific measures to prevent a problem. This treatment typically isn't necessary but also won't do any damage.
You have to be patient when it comes to healing a seroma. In extreme cases, larger ones have been known to take over a year to heal completely but are likely to take at least a couple of months. Fortunately, a small seroma should not be visible for more than a month. If it has been over a month and is not shrinking, a doctor can advise you on what steps to take next. Doctors will sometimes suggest needle aspiration, but they will need to look at it to determine if the particular seroma can be treated with a needle. If the seroma is infected, needle aspiration is not advised, as performing this procedure can cause increased health risks.
What Does a Seroma Look Like?
You are most likely to notice visible swelling first. You will also commonly see reddening close to the location of the surgery. It could feel warm and tender to the touch. A seroma is basically a fluid-filled sac that sits under the skin, and that is how it appears once it grows big enough to see. You may even notice seroma serum leaking from the surgical site before noticing the seroma itself.
Big or small, you must be careful to take care of the area and keep it clean because seromas can be prone to bacterial infections. Most seroma infections begin as a result of damaged blood capillaries. A broken capillary can allow the infection to quickly enter the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it can soon spread to other parts of the body.