Cellulite: an overview and more


Cellulitis is a common bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin, especially the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. In addition to the redness, swelling, and warmth of the skin, which often spread rapidly, a person may also experience fever and / or chills, especially if the infection is severe. Any break in the skin can leave you vulnerable to this infection. Although it is often effectively treated with antibiotics, some cases can be life-threatening.

Get Medical Information / Alexandra Gordon

Symptoms of cellulite

Cellulite makes your skin red, swollen, tender, and warm to the touch. Also, sometimes the texture of infected skin can be described as "cobblestone."

Red streaks radiating from this area and enlarged lymph nodes are also common signs of cellulite. There may also be fever, chills, and / or fatigue, especially if the infection is severe .


In children, cellulite usually appears on the face and neck, and in adults, on the arms or legs.


Cellulitis is almost always caused by a bacterial infection. Bacteria can enter the body through breaks in the skin, such as cuts, scrapes, sores, spider bites, tattoos, or surgical wounds. Skin conditions like eczema , athlete 's foot, or very dry skin can also lead to cracks in the skin through which bacteria pass.

In adults and children, cellulitis is most often caused by the bacteria Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus . Another type of bacteria, Haemophilus influenzae type B, can cause cellulitis in children under 3 years of age, but after vaccination against these bacteria it has become common .

Animal bites such as dogs or cats can cause a Pasteurella multocida infection. Dog bites can rarely cause Capnocytophaga infection, which can be fatal to people with alcoholism, no underlying spleen or liver disease .

Exposure of the wound to warm salt water can lead to cellulite caused by Vibrio vulnificus . Although cellulitis is usually mild, in people at high risk (with liver problems, alcohol, or a chronic medical condition such as diabetes) the infection can spread rapidly and be life-threatening .

Keep in mind that cellulite can also develop on perfectly normal skin. For example, reinfections can develop in areas where blood or lymphatic vessels have been damaged.

This can be due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • Pre-existing cellulitis infection
  • Surgical removal of lymph nodes , which can lead to lymphedema.
  • Extraction of veins for transplantation of veins in other parts of the body.
  • Previous or current radiation therapy to the area in question

Other factors that make you more prone to developing cellulite include:

  • Being overweight or obese.
  • With age
  • Diabetes, HIV or AIDS
  • Taking medicines that suppress your immune system (such as corticosteroids or chemotherapy)
  • Leg swelling due to venous insufficiency, congestive heart failure, or liver / kidney disease


Cellulite is generally diagnosed based on its appearance. Sometimes healthcare professionals will check a person's blood test to see if white blood cells are high (meaning the immune system is fighting the infection). In this case, an increased number of white blood cells may not be produced in the early stages of infection.

In very sick people, a blood culture may be done to see if the bacteria have spread into the bloodstream. Unfortunately, the culture is only positive in less than 10 percent of cases, making it difficult to make a definitive diagnosis.

Less commonly, a healthcare provider may choose to perform an aspiration, which involves injecting sterile fluid into the infected tissue, after which the fluid is removed in hopes of capturing some of the bacteria. This is usually done only in extreme cases, as aspirations can lead to inconclusive results.

Also less frequently, a skin biopsy may be performed, in which a small sample of the affected skin is removed and placed in a Petri dish to see if bacteria are growing if a diagnosis is not made and / or to rule out diagnoses that can simulate cellulite. , such as a reaction to a drug or vasculitis .

Finally, Imaging tests such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to distinguish cellulitis from another diagnosis, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or osteomyelitis (bone infection).

Watch out

Cellulitis is treated with antibiotics , drugs that attack bacteria. Most cellulitis infections require a 10-day course of oral antibiotics, although the exact duration will ultimately depend on the severity of the infection.

Most people will notice an improvement in their symptoms within 24 to 48 hours after starting antibiotics.

Track your infection

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if your cellulite is getting better or worse. It may help to draw a line around the infected red area. Stay tuned for changes in the coming days:

  • Does the redness decrease? The infection is likely to go away.
  • Does the redness extend beyond the marked line? The infection is likely to get worse.

In addition to taking an antibiotic prescribed by your healthcare provider, if the infection is in an arm or leg, lifting the limb can speed healing. Rest is also important to the healing process. Also, your healthcare provider may recommend a a bandage to keep the infected skin covered.

In more severe cases of cellulitis, hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics may be required. Examples of such cases include:

Also, infections that do not improve or are worsened by oral antibiotics require immediate medical attention.

Serious complications can arise from untreated cellulitis, including sepsis (when bacteria enter the bloodstream), necrotizing fasciitis (when infection reaches deeper tissues), and abscess formation.


The best prevention of cellulite is to take care of any damage to the skin, which includes:

  • Daily washing of the wound with soap and water.
  • Apply a topical antibiotic to the wound.
  • Keep the wound covered with a bandage.
  • Change the bandage daily (or more often if it gets dirty or wet)

It's also important to speak with your healthcare provider about any underlying medical conditions that increase your risk for cellulite, such as poorly controlled diabetes, obesity, or very dry skin.

Get the word of drug information

Don't hesitate to see your doctor if the wound you are treating suddenly becomes red, painful, or begins to drain. This is especially true if you have diabetes, poor circulation, or are taking immunosuppressants.

Waiting is rarely a good idea. A persistent rash or dark red, inflamed skin may indicate a more serious infection of the dermis (the inner layer of the skin). As with all skin conditions, early detection allows for more effective treatment.

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