Lymphangitis refers to inflammation of your lymphatic vessels. It’s a complication of skin infections, but it can also occur in people with certain types of cancer and other health conditions. Lymphangitis treatments include antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. Outlook is usually good with prompt care.


What is lymphangitis?

Lymphangitis is inflammation of your lymph vessels. Your lymph vessels are part of your lymphatic system. They transport lymphatic fluid away from tissues and deliver it back into your bloodstream.

Lymphangitis is often a complication of skin infections. But it can occur because of noninfectious conditions, too, like some cancers and tumors.

Healthcare providers sometimes call this condition acute lymphangitis. “Acute” describes a condition that occurred recently and shouldn’t last very long with treatment. But it’s important to know that prompt care is necessary. Left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of your body, including your bloodstream.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of lymphangitis?

Lymphangitis symptoms may include:

How fast does lymphangitis spread?

Lymphangitis moves quickly. In less than 24 hours, an infection can spread from the initial wound to several areas of your lymphatic system. Left untreated, the infection can enter your bloodstream and cause sepsis.

If you notice red streaks on your skin or other symptoms of lymphangitis, tell a healthcare provider immediately. Prompt treatment can keep the infection from spreading.

What causes lymphangitis?

Lymphangitis can occur any time you have a wound. Open areas on your skin allow bacteria, viruses or fungi to enter your body and invade your lymphatic system.

Bacterial infections are the most common cause of lymphangitis. But you can get it from viral or fungal infections, too.

Common causes include:

  • Skin infections like cellulitis.
  • Puncture wounds.
  • Bug bites or stings.
  • Large wounds that need stitches (including surgical incisions).
  • Sporotrichosis (a common fungal skin infection).

Less commonly, lymphangitis is a complication of certain cancerous and noncancerous tumors. This happens when cancer cells spread from the primary (original) tumor to your lymph vessels. This causes a blockage, which results in inflammation.

Lymphangitis risk factors

You’re more likely to develop lymphangitis if you have:


What are the complications of lymphangitis?

Left untreated, lymphangitis can result in health complications like:

Getting prompt medical care can significantly reduce your risk for these conditions.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose lymphangitis?

First, a healthcare provider will do a physical exam. This involves looking at your skin and feeling around your lymph nodes for swelling.

To confirm a diagnosis, they may also recommend a:

  • Skin culture test to determine the presence of pathogens like bacteria, viruses or fungi.
  • Skin biopsy to determine the cause of swollen lymph nodes.
  • Blood culture to find out if infection has spread to your blood (sepsis).


Management and Treatment

How do healthcare providers treat lymphangitis?

Lymphangitis treatment depends on the specific cause. Options include:

Your healthcare provider might give you these medications in pill form or intravenously (through an IV in your vein). Very rarely, people need surgery to remove infected tissue.


Can I prevent lymphangitis?

It’s difficult to totally prevent lymphangitis because it’s a complication of other conditions. But if you notice red streaks on your skin, flu-like symptoms or swelling near your lymph nodes, seeking immediate medical care can reduce the severity and help you make a full recovery.

Outlook / Prognosis

How long does it take to recover from lymphangitis?

Healing time depends on the underlying cause, but most people make a full recovery. Even so, swelling can linger for several weeks or months. Your healthcare provider can tell you when it’s safe to resume routine activities.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Call a healthcare provider immediately if you develop red streaks on your skin or flu-like symptoms — especially if you have an existing wound or health condition. Lymphangitis spreads quickly, so you should get medical treatment as soon as possible to reduce your risk of complications.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

If you have lymphangitis, here are some questions you might want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What do you think caused lymphangitis?
  • What kind of treatment do you recommend?
  • How many rounds of medication will I need?
  • Will I need surgery?
  • How can I take care of myself while I recover?
  • What can I do to reduce my risk of lymphangitis in the future?

Additional Common Questions

What is sclerosing lymphangitis?

Sclerosing lymphangitis is a rare condition that can affect people with penises. It’s unrelated to acute lymphangitis. It happens when a lymph vessel in your penis becomes hard and swollen, resulting in a rope-like swelling just below the head of your penis. Although it may look alarming, sclerosing lymphangitis usually isn’t harmful and it goes away on its own.

Experts aren’t sure of the exact cause yet, but sclerosing lymphangitis could indicate repeated trauma from vigorous or intense sexual activity. Other possible causes include circumcision-related scarring or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Having a skin infection or other health condition is challenging enough. But when you see red streaks forming on your skin or develop other worrisome symptoms like fever, chills, headaches or fatigue, it can feel downright scary. Ignoring these symptoms can make them worse. The good news is that lymphangitis usually goes away with prompt treatment. So, if you feel like something isn’t quite right, trust your instincts and call a healthcare provider. They’ll confirm a diagnosis and get you the treatment you need.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 08/21/2023.

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