Standing Up For You

Know the signs of infection after surgery

Any infection that develops within 30 days of a surgical procedure constitutes a surgical infection. Sometimes, these dangerous complications arise because of a medical error, such as leaving an instrument inside the body. Surgical site infections most commonly arise from staph bacteria and occur in up to 5% of procedures requiring an incision according to Healthline. 

Seek immediate medical attention if you have surgery and notice any of these symptoms. 

Types of surgical infections 

Some infections are superficial, which means that they affect only the skin where the doctor made the surgical incision. Antibiotics usually resolve this type of infection. 

Deep infections extend past the skin into the tissue and muscle and may result from an implanted medical device. A surgeon may need to reopen the incision to clean and drain the infected area. 

The most severe surgical infections occur deep within the body in the affected organ, the bones and the surrounding area of the surgical space. An abscess may be visible on an X-ray. These life-threatening infections will require a second surgery. Without treatment, the person has a risk for tissue degradation and sepsis. 

Symptoms of infection 

If an infection develops after a hospital stay or outpatient procedure, you may experience: 

  • Skin that feels hot to the touch, especially around the surgical site 
  • Pain around the surgical site 
  • Redness and swelling at the surgical site 
  • Fluid draining from the site 
  • Fever 
  • Unexplained fatigue 

These symptoms can arise days, weeks or even a month after the procedure. 

Certain individuals are at higher risk for infection after surgery. This includes patients who smoke, are obese, are elderly, have diabetes or another chronic health condition, had a procedure that lasted more than two hours, had emergency surgery, had abdominal surgery, and/or have a history of skin infections. 

If you or a loved one experiences these complications after surgery, see a doctor right away. Most severe medical infections result from waiting too long to seek treatment for a minor infection.