Lymphangitis is an inflammation in the lymphatic system caused by invading pathogens or toxic substances. It is treated with antibiotics and usually heals completely. If the cause is not treated, the disease can become chronic.
What is lymphangitis?
According to Gradinmath, lymphangitis is inflammation in the lymphatic vessels. These run through the body in lymphatic vessels and transport the lymph, a yellowish liquid containing lymphatic plasma and lymphocytes (white blood cells).
The lymph is transported to various lymph nodes, where it is freed from harmful substances and cleaned. The lymphatic vessels are an essential part of the human immune system. The most important lymph nodes are easily palpable on the neck, in the groin and under the armpits.
In lymphangitis, pathogens or harmful substances, such as snake venom or chemical substances, enter the lymphatic system and cause inflammation. A distinction is made between acute and chronic lymphangitis. The acute form is usually caused by an inflamed wound, while chronic lymphangitis is caused by tissue changes in the lymphatic vessels.
The cause of acute lymphangitis is either inflamed tissue in the immediate vicinity of the lymphatic system or pathogens or harmful substances that have penetrated directly into the lymphatic system. Acute lymphangitis is usually caused by bacterial inflammation of the skin or adjacent organs.
It is most commonly caused by staphylococci or streptococci. Especially when pus forms or an abscess develops, the inflammation can spread to the lymphatic system. However, acute lymphangitis can also be caused by parasites or fungi, but this is rather rare.
Another possible trigger are insect or snake venoms. Chronic lymphangitis can develop as a result of acute lymphangitis that has not healed. It can also be caused by a defect in the lymphatic system. If the flow in the lymph channels is disturbed, congestion and tissue changes occur, which can trigger inflammatory processes.
Finally, chronic lymphangitis can also be caused by surgical interventions in which parts of the lymphatic system had to be removed.
Typical Symptoms & Signs
- red streak pointing towards the heart (inflamed lymphatic vessel)
- lymph node swelling
- pus blisters
- Heavy legs
- skin redness
Diagnosis & History
Symptoms of acute lymphangitis initially show tiredness and exhaustion, fever and chills, sometimes also tachycardia ( palpitations ).
The area around the infected wound is swollen, warm, and red, and the affected part of the body is painful. A red stripe runs from the wound towards the heart. This streak is commonly thought to be a sign of blood poisoning, but it is the reddish inflamed lymphatic system that is visible through the skin. The nearby lymph nodes are swollen and painful when pressure is applied.
In chronic lymphangitis, the symptoms of the acute form recur again and again and as the disease progresses, lymphedema (accumulation of fluid in the lymphatic vessels) often develops, which can be recognized by swelling in the affected area. The skin changes and itchy eczema develops.
Lymphangitis is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and medical history. A blood test can determine whether there is inflammation in the body. With further physical examinations, with sonography and computed tomography, the doctor can find out what caused the lymphangitis.
Lymphangitis causes various symptoms, which can also vary in severity. In most cases, those affected suffer from fever and severe exhaustion. Tiredness also occurs and those affected no longer actively participate in life.
There is also chills and itching or reddening of the skin. The patient’s legs feel heavy from the lymphangitis and there is pain in the extremities. Furthermore, heart palpitations can also occur and thereby significantly reduce the patient’s quality of life. The lymph nodes themselves can show pain when pressure is applied.
Lymphangitis is treated with antibiotics, with no particular complications or limitations. As a rule, the symptoms disappear relatively quickly and no further symptoms appear. If there is no treatment, a chronic course of the disease can set in. The life expectancy of the patient is usually not reduced by this disease. In severe cases, abscesses may need to be surgically removed.
When should you go to the doctor?
Lymphangitis is a serious disease of the lymphatic system. Early diagnosis prevents serious complications and significantly improves the chances of recovery. Anyone who suspects that they are suffering from an inflammation of the lymphatic system or another disease of the lymphatic system should speak to their family doctor. The doctor can quickly diagnose the disease based on the clear symptoms and suggest a suitable therapy. At the latest when the characteristic stripe moving in the direction of the heart is noticed, medical attention is required.
Acute lymphangitis is often noticed by those affected themselves, while the chronic form initially shows no clear symptoms. Both forms must be diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Patients over 40 or with previous cancer treatment are at risk and should report any abnormalities to their doctor. Depending on the type and severity of the symptoms, the family doctor will consult a lymphologist and other internists. If the symptoms appear in connection with a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, the gynecologist must be consulted.
Treatment & Therapy
The treatment of acute lymphangitis depends on its cause. If the inflammation is from an infected wound or an inflamed organ, antibiotics are given to control the infection.
In most cases, this drug therapy is sufficient. In addition, you should immobilize the affected body part, cool it and possibly apply disinfecting compresses. The application of anti-inflammatory ointments also contributes to healing. If the lymphangitis is already advanced and an abscess with pus has formed, it must be surgically removed.
If the lymph vessels are severely damaged by the inflammation, the affected parts must be removed. If edema has formed in chronic lymphangitis, lymphatic drainage is often used as a therapy. A special technique is used to transport the fluid that has accumulated in the tissue to the lymph nodes. In addition, special gymnastics help with chronic lymphangitis, which prevents new congestion.
Outlook & Forecast
The prognosis of lymphangitis is favorable. There is an inflammatory disease that can be cured by the administration of medication. If left untreated, the symptoms will increase. With a healthy and stable immune system, however, healing is possible without the administration of drugs. The healing path is longer under these circumstances and the risk of developing complications is increased.
If the disease is diagnosed in the early stages, therapy can be started immediately. Under optimal conditions, the patient is usually discharged from treatment as cured within a few days or weeks. Delays may occur if the lymph vessels are severely damaged or if the immune system is weakened. People who have an immature or very weak endogenous defense system are often subject to a severe course of the disease or suffer from the inflammation spreading in the organism. This can lead to other diseases that must be taken into account when making a prognosis. If drug therapy is not sufficient, further treatment measures such as lymphatic drainage can be initiated.
In very rare cases, there is a formation of pus, which enters the blood system. There is a possibility of contracting sepsis. Blood poisoning is a potentially life-threatening condition for those affected and must be treated in intensive care.
Lymphangitis can be prevented by treating wounds and injuries properly to keep them from becoming infected. If there is already an infection, you should consult a doctor immediately. Lymphangitis can be prevented with the right therapy.
The quality of life of those affected is significantly reduced by the disease of lymphangitis. The sick are permanently dependent on the help and support of family members, since everyday life can no longer be mastered independently. The aftercare therefore focuses on the complete recovery of the usual everyday life.
Once the treatment with the help of antibiotics has been completed, a gentle mode should still be used so as not to overstrain the body. Getting plenty of sleep and exercise will help with recovery. The pain usually disappears after treatment, so sufferers should focus fully on improving their well-being. Immune-boosting sports such as yoga or walking are recommended. Lymphangitis does not shorten the life expectancy of those affected.
You can do that yourself
In most cases, lymphangitis can be treated relatively well, whereby the treatment can also be supported with self-help methods. However, it is not possible to treat lymphangitis solely by means of self-help.
If the disease occurs as a result of a wound, those affected are dependent on taking antibiotics. Furthermore, the patient should protect the wound from inflammation or other infections and therefore cover it with a sterile bandage. Immobilization of the affected region is also advisable. Any pain that occurs can be relieved by cooling.
It should be noted that the cooling material is not placed directly on the affected area to avoid burns. However, if the lymphangitis progresses further or if pus forms, a doctor should always be consulted, as this usually requires an operation.
Since lymphangitis can also limit the patient’s everyday life in some cases, those affected are dependent on the help of other people. Above all, the help of friends or one’s own family has a very positive effect on the course of the disease and can possibly also prevent psychological problems.