What is Involved in a Cellulitis Diagnosis?

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  • Written By: Lindsey Rivas
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Images By: Michaeljung, Jason Ormand, Acphoto
  • Last Modified Date: 22 April 2019
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A cellulitis diagnosis and proper treatment can be crucial to prevent the bacteria from spreading. Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria that enter through a break in the skin. Although it is treatable, it can have life-threatening complications if the bacteria spread through the blood. A cellulitis diagnosis typically involves providing medical history and a physical exam. In some cases, blood and culture tests might be done, or a doctor might perform further tests to rule out other medical conditions.

The first step in a cellulitis diagnosis is to consider the medical history of the patient. A doctor will usually ask if the patient has had any recent insect or animal bites or had close contact with someone who has a skin infection. Also, a doctor will want to know the symptoms and how long they have been experienced. In addition, it is important to note if a patient has certain diseases like diabetes, cancer, or HIV because they can lead to an increased risk of serious complications from cellulitis.


Next, the doctor will typically do a physical exam to visually inspect the affected area of the body. With cellulitis, the skin is generally red and swollen, and it might look slightly pitted like an orange peel. It is also warm to the touch and painful. The doctor will usually look for a break in the skin, such as a cut or insect bite, where the bacteria might have entered the skin. Also, the patient might have a fever depending on the severity of the infection. Based on the physical exam, a doctor may give a cellulitis diagnosis, or he may perform further tests to be certain.

In some cases, a doctor might do a blood test or a culture test. A blood test measures the number of different types of blood cells. An elevated white blood cell count indicates that an infection is present. A culture test involves taking a sample of the affected skin to determine the type of bacteria that is causing the symptoms. This can help a doctor know which antibiotic would be the most effective in treating the infection.

It might also be necessary for a doctor to rule out other medical conditions. For example, deep vein thrombosis is a blot clot disorder that has similar symptoms to cellulitis. An ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan will sometimes be used before making a cellulitis diagnosis if other medical conditions are suspected.

After the cellulitis diagnosis is made, treatment should begin as soon as possible to prevent the bacteria from spreading. A doctor will usually prescribe oral antibiotics that treat both streptococci and staphylococci bacterial infections. If the infection is severe, the patient may be hospitalized and given an intravenous antibiotic. In some cases, a doctor might need to cut open the wound and drain the pus in order to promote healthy healing of the tissue. A follow-up with the doctor may be scheduled within a few days of the cellulitis diagnosis to make sure the infection is responding to treatment.



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