Diagnosis of Cellulitis

By  , Expert Content
Jan 17, 2013

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Cellulitis is a common infection for which people visit a doctor. It can be diagnosed clinically by taking history and performing a physical exam. Lab tests may be done to confirm the type of bacteria causing the infection and to rule out other conditions that  cause similar type of symptoms.

Medical History: While taking medical history, the doctor may ask questions such as:

  • Have you lately been in fresh or salt water?
  • Has any animal bitten you?
  • Does any of your close contacts (family members, co-workers, or friend)had any recent skin infections?
  • Do you have medical conditions such as diabetes, certain cancers (such as leukaemia or lymphoma), chemotherapy or HIV or AIDS (all these conditions increase your risk of getting cellulitis)?

Physical Exam: Examination of the affected area is the most reliable way of diagnosing Cellulitis. Area affected by Cellulitis shows symptoms such as redness, warm to touch, swelling and pain. The doctor will also examine your skin to look for breaks (such as cuts, bruises, scrapes, skin conditions or ulcers) from where the bacteria could have entered.

Blood Tests: Blood tests such as complete blood count or blood culture may be done to determine if the infection has spread to the blood. If you have an open wound or have discharge from the wound, a swab of cells from the wound may be taken. This can help to see what type of bacteria is causing the infection. A swab looks like a cotton bud and it is used to take small sample of tissue for testing.

If your symptoms are suggestive of an infection severe enough to warrant admission to a hospital, further testing may be done. These tests include a series of blood tests to assess the severity of the infection and how well you are responding to the antibiotics.

Besides these, the doctor may do tests to rule out other conditions that  cause similar symptoms such as:

  • deep vein thrombosis (DVT),
  • gout,
  • insect stings,
  • contact dermatitis,
  • cancers such as lymphoma and leukaemia,
  • certain other diseases such as lupus, sarcoidosis,
  • radiation therapy and
  • Paget's disease


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