Cellulitis

Complications of cellulitis

Most cases of cellulitis can be effectively treated using antibiotics and will not result in any complications, or long-term health problems.

However, in a small number of cases, cellulitis can lead to serious complications, particularly if the condition is left untreated.

Septicaemia

If the bacteria which infects your skin and tissue gets into your bloodstream, it can lead to a condition known as septicaemia (blood poisoning). Symptoms of septicaemia may include:

  • fever,
  • fast heart beat,
  • fast breathing,
  • low blood pressure (hypotension), which will cause you to feel dizzy when you stand up,
  • a change in mental behaviour, such as confusion, or disorientation,
  • diarrhoea,
  • reduced urine flow,
  • cold, clammy skin,
  • pale skin, and
  • loss of consciousness.

If you are displaying these symptoms, you should seek emergency medical attention by calling 999 to ask for an ambulance.

Infection in other parts of the body

In very rare cases, the infection that causes cellulitis can spread to other parts of your body. In serious cases, the infection may spread to your:

  • muscle,
  • bone, or
  • heart valves.

Infection in these parts of the body can be serious and will require intensive treatment. However, it is important to be aware that this is rare, and most cases of cellulitis will not spread from the original location.

Swelling

If you have cellulitis and it remains untreated, your risk of developing permanent swelling in your legs, or other affected body part, may increase.

This is because an advanced infection can stop lymph (the fluid which surrounds your tissues) from draining away. In severe cases, the swelling may be long-lasting, or permanent.

Glossary

Tissue
Body tissue is made up of groups of cells that perform a specific job, such as protecting the body against infection, producing movement or storing fat.  
Abscess
An abscess is a lump containing pus, which is made by the body during infection.
Brain
The brain controls thought, memory and emotion. It sends messages to the body controlling movement, speech and senses.
Vein
Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from the rest of the body back to the heart.
Blood
Blood supplies oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide. It is pumped around the body by the heart.
Antibiotics
Antibiotics are medicines that can be used to treat infections caused by micro-organisms, usually bacteria or fungi. For example amoxicillin, streptomycin and erythromycin.
Heart valves
Heart valves are four sets of flaps that control the direction that blood pumps around the heart.
Last updated: 11 November 2011

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