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Denis Spelman, MBBS, FRACP, FRCPA, MPH
Section Editor
Daniel J Sexton, MD
Deputy Editor
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH


Lymphangitis is inflammation of lymphatic channels due to infectious or noninfectious causes. Potential pathogens include bacteria, mycobacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Lymphangitis most commonly develops after cutaneous inoculation of microorganisms into the lymphatic vessels through a skin wound or as a complication of a distal infection.

The pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, microbiology, diagnosis, and treatment of lymphangitis will be reviewed here. Further information about the individual etiologies of lymphangitis is discussed in detail separately.


The major function of the lymphatic system is to resorb fluid and protein from tissues and extravascular spaces. The absence of a basement membrane beneath lymphatic endothelial cells affords the lymphatic channels a unique permeability, allowing resorption of proteins that are too large to be resorbed by venules.

Lymphatic channels are situated in the deep dermis and subdermal tissues parallel to the veins and have a series of valves to ensure one-way flow [1]. Lymph drains via afferent lymphatics to regional lymph nodes and then by efferent lymphatics to the cisterna chyli and the thoracic duct into the subclavian vein and venous circulation.

Lymphangitis most commonly develops after cutaneous inoculation of microorganisms that invade the lymphatic vessels and spread toward the regional lymph nodes. Organisms may invade lymphatic vessels directly through a skin wound or an abrasion or as a complication of a distal infection.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 19, 2017.
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