How Serious Is Cellulitis of the Leg?

Reviewed on 4/28/2021

Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and soft tissues typically caused by staphylococci (“staph”) or streptococci (“strep”) bacteria. It is usually mild and not contagious. However, when it sometimes affects the leg or spreads to other parts of the body, it can be serious.
Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and soft tissues typically caused by staphylococci (“staph”) or streptococci (“strep”) bacteria. It is usually mild and not contagious. However, when it sometimes affects the leg or spreads to other parts of the body, it can be serious.

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin and soft tissues. It is usually caused by staphylococci (“staph”) or streptococci (“strep”) bacteria that commonly live on the skin or inner surface of the nose or mouth of healthy people. Cellulitis usually affects the deeper layers of the skin or the fat under the skin and is not usually contagious unless it is draining pus or fluid.

Cellulitis commonly affects the leg, though it may also involve the arm, around the eye, the breast, the abdominal wall or any area of the body that has an open wound

Cellulitis of the leg and other parts of the body is usually mild and the affected skin can be treated with antibiotics. But some cases of cellulitis of the leg or other parts of the body can be severe and lead to systemic infection. 

What Are Symptoms of Cellulitis of the Leg?

Symptoms of cellulitis of the leg may come on suddenly or gradually and include: 

  • Dull pain or tenderness 
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Redness 
  • Skin may appear pitted, like the peel of an orange
  • Fever 
  • Chills
  • Blisters or small pimples (less common)

What Causes Cellulitis of the Leg?

Cellulitis is an infection usually caused by staphylococci ("Staph") or streptococci ("Strep") bacteria that live on the skin or inner surface of the nose or mouth of healthy people. Cellulitis may develop if there is a wound or other break in the skin, that can be minor and unnoticed. This break in the skin permits the bacteria to enter the skin, causing infection and swelling.

Risk factors for developing cellulitis include:

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How Is Cellulitis of the Leg Diagnosed?

Cellulitis of the leg is usually diagnosed with a physical examination of the affected skin. 

Blood tests and other lab tests are usually not needed in mild cases, although bacterial cultures may be taken to figure out the germ that caused the infection to help determine treatment.

What Is the Treatment for Cellulitis of the Leg?

Treatment for cellulitis of the leg includes antibiotics and treatment of any underlying condition that led to the infection.

Home care for cellulitis of the leg includes:

  • Elevate the leg above the heart to help reduce swelling and facilitate healing
  • Keep the affected area clean and dry 
    • Only use antibiotic ointments or creams if prescribed by your doctor
  • Rest and give the body time to heal 
  • Fever and chills, if they occurred, should go away within one to two days after starting antibiotic therapy
  • Swelling, warmth, and redness should begin to improve within one to three days after starting antibiotics, though it may continue for up to two weeks

Medical treatment for cellulitis of the leg includes:

  • Antibiotics 
  • The choice of antibiotic depends the bacterial cause of the cellulitis 
  • In severe cases, hospitalization may be needed and intravenous (IV) antibiotics may be given

What Are Complications of Cellulitis of the Leg?

Complications from cellulitis are uncommon and may include:

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Reviewed on 4/28/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/skin-and-soft-tissue-infection-cellulitis-beyond-the-basics?detectedLanguage=en&source=search_result&search=cellulitis&selectedTitle=5~150&provider=noProvider

https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/Cellulitis.html