A stack of 4x4 gauze pads laying on a dark table

Are you worried about knowing the Signs of Infection After Surgery?  Anyone who goes under the knife for a surgical procedure is placed at risk for infection.  While you trust your surgeon and you do all of the right things, it can happen.  Being aware of what infection looks like is important so you can seek treatment immediately to not delay healing.

Image of a surgical tray with tools for a surgical procedure

Signs of Infection After Surgery: What You Need to Know

While these are all signs of infection, they do not always indicate you have an infection.  Some of these can be perfectly normal reactions post-surgery.  Most importantly, if you feel something is wrong or “off”, you should be contacting your surgeon or physician immediately. Never hesitate to seek medical attention.  It is better to check something early and often than to let it go too long.

Fever and chills can be signs of a bacterial infection

You can expect a low-grade fever after many surgical procedures and a tummy tuck is no different.  It is best to ask your plastic surgeon what they consider a fever of concern, but typically it is one that is over 101°, or a fever that doesn’t reduce with the use of Tylenol or Ibuprofen. Chills are often a side effect of anesthesia, so you also want to be aware that these things may happen in the first 24-48 hours after surgery.

While a low-grade fever is common, you should be aware of a fever and chills that is accompanied by any of the other signs of infection listed here.  You also need to watch for any fever after the first-week post-surgery.    Fever is typically the first indicator of a bacterial infection at play, so routinely checking your temperature in the first-week post-surgery is a good idea, especially if you are an already high-risk surgical patient.

Bad smells in an incision are a common sign of microbial infections

Does your incision smell bad?  You will notice odd smells immediately after surgery.  These smells include the cleansers used pre and post-operation.  It can also include the smell of fresh or dried blood on your skin.  However, a smell that is stronger and doesn’t go away with a soap and water cleaning is of concern.

Many say an infection will smell very strong and obvious.  To some, this smells like bad meat.  Others say it smells like body odor, only a bit stronger.  Make note of any smells that seem stronger or different associated with cloudy fluid or pus in or around the incision line.

Individual laying on a hospital bed with only arm showing that has an IV
Olga Kononenko

If there is pus in or around the incision area

After your tummy tuck, you will have a lot of potential drainage from your incision.  If your doctor does a drainless tummy tuck, it will be more significant and last longer than those that have drains post-surgery.  Some draining of fluid is totally normal.  This can be from bright red blood the day of surgery, to the clear and yellowish fluid after a few days as your system continues the healing process.  Your surgeon should give you information about drains and what to expect.

The most obvious sign of infection is oozing of cloudy fluid or pus from the incision itself. If the fluid is yellow or green and has an odor and is accompanied by fever, redness, or other signs of infection after surgery, it is time to call the doctor or seek immediate medical care.

Redness that spreads out from the incision are common signs and symptoms of bacterial infection

Your abdomen will be bruised and irritated post-surgery and will often be dark pink or red in the first 24-48 hours as your body gets through the first hours of healing.  However, if the redness around the incision is spreading out and is also hot or has pus draining in the area, it is most likely a sign of infection.

If there is no pus or drainage accompanied with the redness, your doctor may not immediately prescribe anti-biotics.  They may, instead, mark the edges of the redness to track growth.  If the redness continues spreading, it is a strong indication of cellulitis in the area and will need antibiotics and medical intervention.

A stack of 4x4 gauze pads laying on a dark table

When the incision and area surrounding is hot to the touch

Is the area around your incision red and hot to the touch?  When you place a hand on your incision area, does it feel significantly warmer there than other areas of your stomach?  This is often a sign of bacterial infection brewing under the skin.  If this is accompanied by swelling and general pain, seek medical attention immediately.

When the incision or surrounding area is more painful it can be signs of infection after surgery

When your tummy tuck incision becomes unusually painful to touch, or it is so painful the medications you were given are not helping ease the discomfort it is a sign there may be an issue with the wound.

While pain is expected and is an obvious side effect of having surgery, significantly different or worsening pain can often indicate an underlying infection or surgical issue.  Any exaggerated pain or new-onset pain is a concern that should be addressed immediately with your surgeon.

Up close of a woman in a surgical mask

An overall feeling of lethargy or flu-like symptoms

Flu-like symptoms are often the first indicator of any infection.  This includes exhaustion, weakness, and overall lethargy.  A lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms are also commonplace with infection.  It will be difficult to tell if these are associated with an infection or just part of the healing process.  So, it is important to look at the big picture of all symptoms to rule out infection.

Not all of these symptoms are an immediate indicator that something is wrong.  They are worth considering when in combination post-surgery. You should address all concerns directly with your physician.

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