The most common causes of surgical wound complications are bacteria, allergic reactions and thin skin at the wound site. Normally, the bacteria present on the skin is harmless because the skin acts as a barrier, but when the skin is broken, bacteria enter and start to grow. Bandages and antibiotic ointments can sometimes cause allergic reactions. If the skin at the surgery wound site is thin, it can also create problems with healing.
You need an evaluation of the wound in order to determine the cause of the complications. Indications of wound complications include abnormal serration of the wound, redness and swelling of the skin at the site, and tenderness around the wound. Sometimes a medical professional will take a wound culture to find a positive cause.
A swollen lump under the skin near the surgery wound may indicate a wound hematoma, a mass of clotted blood. Other symptoms of a hematoma include blood clots that drain from the wound and bleeding from the wound that does not stop.
If the skin around the wound is warm to the touch and red, or if there is tenderness or pain in the area, there is a good chance the wound is infected. Serious infection symptoms include a skin abscess, which is a swollen lump under the skin with pus coming from the wound. Cellulitis, or a deeper reddening of the skin, accompanied by swelling and pain are also indicative of a serious infection. Red streaks coming from the site, nausea, vomiting and fever are more symptoms that may indicate surgery wound complications.
Allergies to bandages, medications or ointments used on the surgery wound may include a red, itchy rash around the wound. Typically, removal of the substance causing the reaction and taking an allergy medication will reduce the symptoms.
Wound dehiscense refers to the abnormal opening of the surgical wound or separation of the wound. Symptoms include wound redness and swelling, separation of wound edges, drainage from the wound or tissue protruding from it, and failure of staples or stitches to keep the wound closed.
Wound complications require immediate treatment, including cleansing and antibiotics for an infection. Sometimes another surgery is necessary to rid the wound of infected tissue or to repair a wound that did not close properly. If there is an abscess present, a doctor may need to incise it and drain away pus.
- Dr. Bodo Schneider, Emergency Medicine, Memorial Medical Center, Springfield, Ilinois
- Surgical Associates at Virginia Hospital Center
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