The Cycle of Cellulitis and Lymphedema

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Wednesday, 15 August 2018

On its own, lymphedema is an uncomfortable, and at times painful condition which develops when your lymphatic system fails to function properly. This failure results in lymphatic fluid collecting in the soft tissue of the legs, arms, or hands with associated swelling, heaviness and discomfort. As lymphedema worsens it impacts your health, quality of life and increases your risk of cellulitis. Cellulitis is a serious complication of lymphedema, which can lead to further lymphatic damage and a cascade of events including recurrent cellulitis.

What Is Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and soft tissues. It develops when bacteria breaks the skin barrier. While cellulitis is not contagious, if you have it, the If not treated the infection can spread rapidly. Signs and symptoms of cellulitis include a red, tender, swollen area that is warm to the touch, with or without fever or chills. In severe cases the swelling and inflammation can spread can causing ‘water’ blisters and lymphatic fluid drainage.

Cellulitis can be serious, so it’s important to:

  • Learn how to spot cellulitis,
  • Seek treatment for any and all skin rashes or infections,
  • Learn how to prevent skin infections during lymphedema flares.

How Lymphedema Can Lead To Cellulitis

The skin stretches and thins, as the lymph fluid accumulates, weakening your natural skin barrier and increasing the risks of infection.  Folds in the skin of lymphedema patients can also trap bacteria. Once bacteria penetrates the skin the swollen tissue is a perfect mileu for infection to develop and spread. While not all lymphedema patients will develop cellulitis, the risk is much higher.

Cellulitis Also Worsens Lymphedema

Together, cellulitis and lymphedema create a cycle of pain, discomfort and further lymphatic damage. Over time you may develop chronic lymphedema with inflammatory changes in the affected limb. Remember if you already have lymphedema, cellulitis can make it worse.

The Health Consequences Of Recurrent Cellulitis

Skin infections like cellulitis can spread to the rest of the body. Bacteria can spread to the bloodstream and bones, can even cause tissue death (gangrene) or deep tissue infection (necrotizing fasciitis). Some more serious cases may require checking into the hospital for antibiotics, nursing care and observation.

How Is Cellulitis Treated?

Your doctor will prescribe oral antibiotics and give additional instructions to reduce swelling and increase your comfort. However, in some cases, you may be hospitalized with intravenous antibiotics if you have:

  • A high fever
  • Cellulitis that doesn’t respond to oral antibiotic treatment
  • More serious symptoms, such as necrotizing fasciitis


Go to the emergency room or dial 9-1-1 if you have a rash with a fever. If you have no fever, you can choose to call your doctor.

Additional Risk Factors For Cellulitis

Lymphedema isn’t the only cause of skin infections. Other risk factors include:

  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Skin conditions like eczema or athlete’s foot, which create cracks in the skin that allow bacteria to enter
  • Cuts, scrapes, and burns that give bacteria an easy way in
  • Weakened immune system due to medications or chronic health conditions like leukemia, HIV/AIDS, or diabetes


If you’ve had cellulitis before, you’re more likely to get it again.

Tips For Prevention

If you have lymphedema, and especially if you have additional risk factors noted above, follow these tips to prevent skin infections:

  1. Good Hygiene: Cleanse daily with soap and water. Don’t scrub; cleanse gently. Pay special attention to stretched skin, breaks, burns, or areas affected by lymphedema.
  2. Protective Ointments: Protective barrier skin care products, can be applied to a wound or sensitive area of the skin, serving as a barrier against bacteria.
  3. Bandage the Area: Cover skin breaks with bandages and change them daily.
  4. Check for Infections: If you notice any signs of an infection, call your doctor. If you have a fever with other signs of an infection, go to the hospital.
  5. Seek Lymphedema Treatment: Don’t try to treat your lymphedema on your own. Seek treatment from your doctor or lymphedema specialists, such as from our team at Vein Specialists of the South in Macon and Warner Robins, GA.

Lymphedema Treatment In Macon And Warner Robins, GA

If you have lymphedema, treatment to reduce symptoms and flare ups is essential to improve your health and quality of life. Whether you were already diagnosed with lymphedema or suspect that you may have lymphedema, our team at Vein Specialists of the South can help. We offer evaluations and treatment options in our offices conveniently located in Downtown Macon and Warner Robins, GA. Once your lymphedema is under control, we can also treat underlying venous disease that may be present, such as varicose veins and spider veins.

Schedule A Consultation Or Contact Us For More Information

Don’t live with the cycle of pain associated with lymphedema and cellulitis. Contact Vein Specialists of the South today to get started or for more information about our practice and options for care.

Over 18,000 Procedures Performed

Dr. Kenneth Harper, founder of Vein Specialists of the South, has evaluated more than 22,000 patients and performed over 18,000 procedures since 2000. Dr. Harper is a leader in comprehensive vein care, having focused on diagnosis and treatments for varicose veins, spider veins, venous ulcers, and leg swelling since 1997.


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