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I just had surgery. What are the signs of infection?

While infection after a surgical procedure is rare, it is one the most common complications after a surgery like a total joint replacement or open heart surgery.  Below is a list of signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for.  These are signs of infection:

 

Increased redness:

It is normal for the incision and the surrounding tissue to be red after surgery.  This happens because your body starts the healing process by sending extra blood cells to the area.  However, the redness should steadily decrease over time.  If the redness seems extreme or does not appear to be improving, it could be a sign of infection.  Be especially wary of streaky redness which could be a MEDICAL EMERGENCY.

 

Heat:

Again, it is typical for the surgical sit to be warmer than the rest of your body for several day/weeks because of the natural healing process.  If it is truly “hot” and does not subside with regular ice and rest then this too could be a sign of infection.

 

Fever:

Sometimes infections after surgery affect areas of your body other than the immediate area that got cut open.  In this case you may not have “fever” (heat and redness) in the surgical area, but your whole body will have an elevated temperature.  It is a good idea to take your temperature daily for the first couple weeks after surgery.  If you start running a fever, call your doctor.  (Disclaimer:  I am an affiliate marketer with links to an online retailer on my website.  When people read what I’ve written about a particular product and then click on those links and buy something from the retailer, I earn a commission from the retailer.)

 

Malaise:

This term refers to an abnormal tiredness or worn out feeling.  It is fairly normal to feel like your energy stores are low after surgery, but this feeling should be getting steadily better each day.  If it doesn’t, or if you have several days of feeling good and then your energy stores plummet, then you may have an infection.

 

Drainage:

If you notice pus or irregular drainage from the wound you should contact your doctor or nurse immediately.  They can give you further advice.

 

Wound not closing or re-opening up after it had already closed:

Often when there is infection in an area that was recently cut open during surgery, your body attempts to protect you by not allowing the wound to heal as healing would trap the infection inside your body.  Generally after a major surgery like joint replacement, shoulder surgery, heart surgery…etc, you will have an appointment with the surgeon within 1-2 weeks after surgery so they can make sure that the incision is healing well.  If the doctor says that everything looks okay but later you notice that the incision begins to open up, call your doctor IMMEDIATELY.

 

Unusual onset of pain:

This is a tough one because there are several explanations for increased pain after surgery.  Let’s say for example that you had a knee replacement 4 weeks ago which seems to be healing well.  You’re pain gets better each day over the 4 weeks, but then you suddenly start experiencing increased pain.  You cannot pinpoint any explanation for the increased pain.  This could be a sign of infection, especially if coupled with any of the signs or symptoms listed above.

 

Be prepared to recognize these signs of infection after you or your loved one have surgery.  Click here for a pocket-sized printable cheat sheet.  You can save it for later or print it out.

FYI:  some factors that increase the likelihood of infection after surgery include diabetes, obesity, and smoking.  If any of these factors apply to you, pay extra close attention to the signs of infection after your surgery.

 

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