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Signs and Symptoms of an Infection

How to Identify an Infection After Surgery


Updated May 29, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Signs and Symptoms of an Infection

Testing for fever

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If you are recovering from surgery, you may be concerned about developing an infection in your incision or in your blood. Taking the proper steps to prevent an infection is important, but doing all the right things after surgery doesn’t guarantee that you will be infection-free.

In the first few weeks after surgery, inspect your incision daily for signs of infection. You may also want to take your temperature daily, preferably at the same time of day, to identify an infection earlier than you might otherwise.

If you do develop an infection or suspect that you may have an infection, it is important that you are able to identify it right away. That way your surgeon can provide antibiotics and any other therapy that are necessary to prevent the infection from spreading.

General Signs and Symptoms of Infection

Malaise: One of the most common symptoms of a systemic infection, or an infection that is moving through your body, is that you will feel tired and lacking in energy. You may sleep more than usual, or not feel up to doing your normal activities. These feelings are also common for patients who are recovering from surgery who do not have an infection. The difference is that when recovering from surgery most people feel a bit better each day, rather than feeling better for a few days then suddenly feeling exhausted and lethargic as can happen with infection.

Fever: A fever is often accompanied by feeling chilled. A fever can also decrease your appetite, lead to dehydration and a headache. A low-grade fever (100 F or less) is common in the days following surgery, a fever of 101 or more should be reported to the surgeon.

Signs and Symptoms of An Infected Surgical Incision

Hot Incision: An infected incision may feel hot to the touch. This happens as the body sends infection fighting blood cells to the site of infection. Proper care of your surgical incision plays a significant role in preventing infection.

Swelling/Hardening of the Incision: An infected incision may begin to harden as the tissue underneath are inflamed. The incision itself may begin to appear swollen or puffy as well.

Redness: An incision that gets red, or has red streaks radiating from it to the surrounding skin may be infected. Some redness is normal at the incision site, but it should decrease over time, rather than becoming more red as the incision heals.

Drainage From the Incision: Foul-smelling drainage or pus may begin to appear on an infected incision. It can range in color from blood-tinged to green, white or yellow. The drainage from an infected wound may also be thick, and in rare cases, chunky.

Pain: Your pain should slowly and steadily diminish as you heal. If your pain level at the surgery site increases for no apparent reason, you may be developing an infection in the wound. It is normal for increased pain if you “overdo it” with activity or you decrease your pain medication, but a significant and unexplained increase in pain should be discussed with your surgeon.

More information on diagnosing infection: Complete Blood Count Lab Test


Incision Care After Surgery. Kaiser Permanente http://members.kaiserpermanente.org/kpweb/healthency.do?hwid=tc4128spec

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