Swelling after a medical procedure

Some people experience swelling as a reaction to or a side effect from a medical treatment or surgery. Swelling from a medical treatment may be related to receiving extra fluids (such as IV fluid) for the procedure, or to a substance (such as dye) used during the procedure.

Your health professional may give you instructions on how to treat swelling after a medical procedure. Be sure to follow those instructions.

Swelling may occur:

  • At an intravenous (IV) site. Some swelling and bruising at an intravenous (IV) site is common. Most IV sites heal quickly in a few days. If a large amount of swelling occurs, the swelling may put some pressure on nerves and cause pain or numbness and tingling. Swelling may also indicate an infection—whenever there is a break in the skin, there is a risk of an infection. An IV site can become infected, and any signs of infection should be discussed with your health professional.
  • After surgery.
    • Depending on the site of surgery, bleeding after surgery may not be visible, but you may notice increased swelling in the surgical area.
    • After surgery, an incision may have increased swelling from a buildup of a yellowish fluid (serum). Skin wounds often collect serum as part of the normal healing process.
    • Most surgical incisions heal well, and some swelling at the site of surgery is normal. However, whenever there is a break in the skin, there is a risk of an infection. If swelling increases and signs of infection develop, call your health professional.
    • If a splint, wrap, or cast was applied too tightly after surgery, this might cause swelling. New or increased swelling of the affected area that is accompanied by severe pain may indicate compartment syndrome, especially if cold, pale skin and numbness or tingling has developed. This is a serious complication that needs emergency medical treatment.
  • From cancer treatment. Radiation therapy may cause body fluid to collect near the treated area. Also, swelling can occur after lymph nodes have been removed during surgery for cancer; this is called lymphedema. Lymphedema usually occurs near the treated area.

Last Updated: October 3, 2008

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