Symptoms of Post-Surgical Infection

Dressing burned wound

All surgery carries some risk, which is why surgeons and hospitals require patients to sign forms prior to surgery indicating that they are giving “informed consent.” In other words, the patient has been told of the things that can go wrong and they are choosing to consent to the procedure anyway, because the benefit they expect outweighs the risk.

One of the risks of almost any surgery includes infection. Infection can happen even when the doctor, nurses, and medical team do everything perfectly. Unfortunately, infection is sometimes the result of negligence on the part of a medical provider. In those cases, the provider may be liable for medical malpractice.

Regardless of the cause, a post-surgical infection can lead to serious complications, from pain and poor wound healing to sepsis, organ failure, and death. With increasingly brief hospital stays after surgery in many cases, or surgery being performed in an outpatient facility, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of postoperative infection and to seek treatment quickly.

Recognizing Postoperative Infection

A post-surgical infection typically appears within 30 days after a surgery, often within a few days of the procedure. An infection may occur just on the skin where the incision was made, in the surrounding muscle or tissue, or in organs or the spaces between organs.

Common symptoms of a surgical site infection include:

  • Yellow or cloudy pus oozing from the surgical site
  • Pain or tenderness near the surgical site
  • Redness of the skin that increases over time
  • Warmth of the skin or “hot incision”
  • Hardening or swelling of the skin at the incision site
  • Fever
  • Painful urination

You should never assume that these symptoms are normal or will go away on their own. They may be the early signs of a post-surgical infection. At the early stages, many infections can be easily treated and resolved with antibiotics. If the infection is allowed to gain a foothold, it becomes much more difficult to treat, and could result in serious or permanent damage.

You should be especially aware of the symptoms of postoperative infection if you have any of the risk factors for these infections. Your doctor and care providers should also be alert that you are at risk of infection and be diligent about protecting you. Common risk factors for developing an infection after surgery include:

  • Being elderly
  • Being obese
  • Being a smoker
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having cancer
  • Having diabetes
  • Having emergency surgery
  • Having abdominal surgery
  • Having surgery that lasts longer than two hours

Having one or more of these risk factors does not guarantee that you will have a postoperative infection, and you can develop an infection even if you have no risk factors. Regardless of whether you are at increased risk for post-surgical infection, contact your doctor immediately if you have any of the symptoms listed above.

Could My Post-Surgical Infection Be From Medical Malpractice?

As noted at the beginning of this blog post, not all infections after surgery are the result of malpractice by the doctor, nurse, or hospital. While some infections are caused by malpractice, the causal link can be difficult to prove, especially without the help of a skilled medical malpractice attorney and the input of medical experts.

For example, an infection that is due to medical malpractice might have been caused by improperly sterilized equipment, or by a surgical team member with Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) who failed to scrub properly before surgery. It can be nearly impossible to identify those actions and establish them as the cause of an infection without professional help.

Most often, medical malpractice cases for post-surgical infection center around a doctor’s failure to properly identify or treat a postoperative infection. An experienced attorney can establish that:

  • The signs and symptoms of infection were present
  • A reasonable doctor would have identified those signs and administered the proper treatment
  • The patient’s doctor did not identify the signs of infection and/or gave the wrong treatment (or no treatment)
  • Because of the doctor’s failure, the patient suffered injury and damages.

Because many postoperative infections are easily treated if caught in time, and because an undiagnosed or untreated infection can lead to sepsis and death, this type of malpractice is very serious.

The bottom line is that if you have symptoms of an infection after surgery, you should seek treatment immediately; don’t assume it’s not a big deal. If your doctor’s recommendation or treatment isn’t effective, let your doctor know your symptoms are getting worse. If necessary, go to the emergency department for help.

And if you have suffered a serious injury because your doctor failed to properly treat your post-surgical infection, speak with a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney. An attorney will help you determine whether you have a valid claim against your doctor or hospital, and help you to pursue it if you do.

If you have questions about whether your postoperative infection was caused by malpractice, please contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Medical Malpractice

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.