Signs and symptoms of infection after surgery

If you’re recovering from surgery, it’s important to take the right steps to prevent infection. Infections after surgery can affect the incision, bladder, lungs, bowel, or blood flow.

Doing all the right things after surgery can reduce your risk of infection, but it’s not a complete guarantee that you won’t get an infection.

This article discusses infections after surgery and how to prevent them. It also looks at the type of infection, symptoms, and when you should see a doctor.

Infection type

Incision infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common types of postoperative infections. Using a urinary catheter (a tube inserted into the bladder to drain urine) during or after surgery can increase your chances of developing a UTI.

Pneumonia is a serious lung infection that can also occur after surgery.

Taking antibiotics to treat or prevent infection increases the risk of infection Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a bacterium in the digestive tract.

Less commonly, severe bloodstream infections develop into and sometimes lead to sepsis, a dangerous inflammatory response to infection.

Renal and urinary complications or infections after surgery

Infection symptoms

It is important to pay attention to the symptoms of infection. Call your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms after surgery.

Infected surgical incision symptoms

Watch out for these signs of infection:

  • Hot incision: An infected incision may feel warm or burning to the touch. This happens when the body sends infection-fighting blood cells to the site.
  • Swelling/hardening of the incision: An infected incision may harden. This happens when the underlying tissue becomes inflamed. The incision may also look swollen or puffy.
  • Redness: Some redness at the incision site is normal. The redness should decrease over time. If it gets redder, it could be infected. Red streaks radiating from the incision to the surrounding skin indicate that the infection is spreading.
  • Incision drainage: An infected incision may produce a foul-smelling drain or pus. Pus can be bloody, green, white, or yellow. Drainage can also be thick.
  • Pain: Your pain should improve slowly and steadily as you heal. A mild to moderate increase in pain after activity is normal. You may also notice more pain if you take less pain medication. If the pain at the surgery site gets worse and you don’t know the cause, you may be developing an infection. Tell your surgeon of any noticeable, unexplained increases in pain.

You can help prevent infection by caring for the incision.


Infected cuts may be red or swollen. It may feel warm, sore, or pus.

Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms

Urinary tract infections after surgery are not uncommon. This happens when you are not drinking enough fluids and you are not urinating frequently enough. Bacteria can build up in the bladder, causing a urinary tract infection.

Catheters can sometimes become contaminated, or your bladder muscles may become weaker days or more after you have the catheter in place.

Symptoms of a urinary tract infection include:

  • burning in urine
  • Urgent or sudden need to use the restroom
  • need to urinate frequently
  • lower abdominal pain

pneumonia symptoms

People recovering from surgery are at risk of developing pneumonia. This is usually the result of decreased mobility and decreased coughing.

Symptoms of pneumonia may include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • gasping breath
  • decreased appetite

C. Different Symptoms

The antibiotics you receive during surgery put you at risk of contracting C. difficile. This is a bacterial infection of the large intestine.

Symptoms include:

  • severe diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • fever
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite


In addition to a wound infection, watch for signs of other types of infection, including burning or urgency, cough, and severe diarrhea.

systemic infection symptoms

A systemic infection is an infection that spreads through your body and can be serious.Common symptoms are fever and malaise.

Malaise is when you feel tired and lack energy. You may sleep more than usual. You may not be able to do normal things. These feelings are common after surgery.

Timing can help differentiate normal postoperative symptoms from infection:

  • After recovering from surgery, most people feel better every day.
  • An infected person may feel better for a few days and then suddenly feel exhausted and lethargic.

Systemic infection may also present with fever, chills, and loss of appetite.

A low-grade fever of 100.4 F or lower is usually present in the days following surgery. Tell your surgeon if you have a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sepsis and sepsis can cause chills, changes in blood pressure and heart rate, difficulty breathing, and decreased consciousness, and can be life-threatening.


Systemic infections can be serious. Call your doctor if you get sick or have a high fever.

Watch for signs of infection

You can check for early signs of infection so you can seek medical attention to prevent the condition from getting worse.

Things you can do:

  • For the first few weeks after surgery, check your incision daily for signs of infection.
  • You should take your temperature every day. This can help you catch an infection early. It is best to take your temperature at the same time every day.

It is important to recognize the infection immediately. Prompt care can prevent it from becoming more serious.

If you are diagnosed with an infection, your surgeon can prescribe antibiotics to help resolve it and prevent it from spreading.

Learn how to care for your incision after surgery

when to see a doctor

See your doctor if you think you may have any type of infection. Any infection after surgery can become serious. Life-threatening complications can start with a small infection.

For example, a urinary tract infection can lead to sepsis, which can lead to septic shock. Septic shock causes blood pressure to drop and can lead to organ failure. Treatment of septic shock requires intensive care.


Infections can occur after surgery, even if you are careful. Your incision may become infected. You can also get a urinary tract infection, pneumonia, or other types of infections.

Note the incision site for redness, swelling, drainage, pain, and warmth. If you have a urinary tract infection, you may have a burning sensation when urinating or need to urinate suddenly or frequently.

Systemic infections can become serious. Symptoms include fever and malaise.

Infection can be life-threatening. Call your doctor if you notice any symptoms of infection.

VigorTip words

Infection is a risk after surgery. It is worth the effort to prevent infection when possible. Infections can delay healing and cause scarring. Infections can cause pain and prolong recovery time. In the most severe cases, hospitalization or intensive care is required.

The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to prevent infection. Recovering from surgery may require your effort and attention—especially after major surgery. Make sure you follow the recovery instructions after surgery so you can heal faster and reduce the chance of complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the risk of developing a surgical site infection?

    Surgical site infection (SSI) occurs in 2% to 5% of patients undergoing surgery.

  • How fast do infections develop after surgery?

    Surgical site infections usually develop within 30 days. However, with surgery to place a certain implant, infection can develop within 90 days.

  • What are the different types of surgical site infections?

    There are three types of surgical site infections (SSIs):

    • Superficial incision: limited to the incision area
    • Deep incision: occurs below the incision and affects the muscle and surrounding tissue
    • Organs or spaces: involving any other area of ​​the body, including organs or spaces between organs
  • How common is pneumonia after surgery?

    Pneumonia is the third most common infection associated with surgery. In studies, the incidence of pneumonia ranging from 2.7% to nearly 29% within 48 to 72 hours of admission to the hospital for surgery.

Surgical infections are easily preventable