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A phlegmon is an area of inflammation in the body that exudes pus and other fluids. This typically develops as a result of an infection and can create serious medical complications. The inflammation may spread to neighboring organs and lead to systemic compromise, for example, or the patient's tissue could become so inflamed that it starts to become necrotic. Tissue necrosis, where soft tissue dies, can potentially lead to the need for amputation or other invasive treatment measures.
Patients develop phlegmonous inflammation when microorganisms start to colonize the soft tissue. This causes inflammation as the body attempts to fight them, and can lead to the production of pus and other exudate. The phlegmon may feel hot and tender to the touch, and the surface skin often has a reddish, irritated appearance. Patients may also notice swelling and a strong odor along with the irritation.
These areas of inflammation can appear in superficial or deep tissue. They may develop in association with a chronic disease or can appear independently. Bacteria are usually the cause, and the patient may develop an abscess, or a collection of pus trapped inside the body. First line treatment for a phlegmon involves medications to cut the inflammation and treat the infection. The patient may also need compresses or procedures to remove exudate if it does not drain freely.
If the condition is not addressed, it can spread and cause a systemic infection. Phlegmonous inflammations just below the surface of the skin can turn into cellulitis. The spreading inflammation can also be accompanied by immune compromise. Patients may develop a high fever, nausea, and fatigue as the inflammation spreads and their bodies become less able to fight off infection. This can allow the inflammation to spread even more rapidly and may expose the patient to the risk of secondary infections.
Medical treatment is advisable when inflammation does not resolve after taking common sense measures like resting, icing the site, and taking medications known to reduce inflammation. If inflammation is accompanied by pus, an altered level of consciousness, or rapidly spreading signs of infection, it is a cause for concern and the patient needs to see a doctor. The doctor can perform a physical examination and use a medical imaging study to learn more about what is happening inside the body. It is important to be aware that a phlegmon may be internal, and thus outward symptoms like flushing may not be present.