Lymphangitis is defined as an inflammation of the lymphatic channels that occurs as a result of infection at a site distal to the channel. (See Etiology.)
The lymphatic system encompasses a network of vessels, glands, and organs located throughout the body. Functioning as part of the immune system, it also transports fluids, fats, proteins, and other substances in the body. Lymph nodes, or glands, filter the lymph fluid. Foreign bodies such as bacteria and viruses are processed in the lymph nodes to generate an immune response to fight infection.
However, when pathogenic organisms enter the lymphatic channels, invading directly through an abrasion or wound or as a complication of infection, local inflammation and subsequent infection ensue, manifesting as red streaks on the skin. The inflammation or infection then extends proximally toward regional lymph nodes. Bacteria can grow rapidly in the lymphatic system (see the image below). (See Etiology and Prognosis.)
Trypanosomal chancre on shoulder with lymphangitis toward axilla.
Although no specific data regarding sex-related demographics are available for lymphangitis, two thirds of patients with cellulitis (a complication of lymphangitis occurring in the absence of appropriate antimicrobial therapy) are reported to be male. (See Presentation and Workup.)
Nodular lymphangitis is a distinct clinical entity, separate from lymphangitis. This disorder is characterized by inflammatory nodules along the lymphatics draining a primary skin infection. (See Etiology and Treatment.)
For patient education information, see Swollen Lymph Nodes.