A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Is my incision infected? 3 things to know after surgery

Wellness / Surgery / Infection / Wrapping bandage

A surgical infection is one of the biggest concerns your surgeon has after a successful surgery.

After a successful surgery, a surgical infection is one of the biggest concerns your surgeon has. A member of your care team should discuss your risk and how to prevent it.

Depending on the type of surgery, there is a 1-3 percent chance of infection. That rate is higher if the operation is on a part of the body that handles bodily fluids such as the gastrointestinal tract.

“There are a lot of factors that can lead to an infection,” said Dr. Kari Paulson, general surgeon for Marshfield Clinic Health System. “It is important to follow the instructions your care team gives you about infection.”

An infection may not come from surgery

To reduce infections, your surgeon should use a sterile technique. This includes making sure all equipment and materials used in your operation are sterile.

Everyone in the operating room should wear personal protective equipment during the surgery. While an infection can come from surgery, it also can happen after the surgery.

Smoking and poor blood sugar control can put you at higher risk of developing an infection after surgery,” Paulson said.

You also should make sure to keep the incision clean and dry. While showering, you may need to wrap plastic around the incision to make sure it stays dry.

Initial signs of surgical infection take 4-5 days

Usually, the initial signs of a post-operation surgical infection will show after 4-5 days. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • A red incision
  • A warm incision
  • Drainage from the surgical site

If you have these initial signs, you should talk with your surgeon. If the wound is deep, it may take longer than 4-5 days to show the first signs.

“Some people are worried with a fever right after surgery on day one or two,” Paulson said. “This is usually not due to a wound infection. However, you should still call your surgeon so they can monitor the situation.”

It typically takes eight months for the incision to fully heal, and it may look red or raised until then.

Treat with antibiotics

If you do have an infection, the typical course of treatment is antibiotics. If antibiotics are given, make sure to finish the full course of antibiotics. This will reduce the risk of creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In some cases, your surgeon may swab the fluids from the incision to find out what type of infection it is. In severe cases, your surgeon also may open the surgical site to drain the fluids.

Before going into an operation, make sure you talk to your surgeon about your risk for surgical infection.

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