What Is a Seroma?
Sometimes you have surgery to remove tissue such as a lump in your breast or belly fat. While you heal, you could get a seroma. That’s a lump of clear bodily fluid that forms under your skin in the empty space where the tissue used to be.
Even though a seroma may feel strange, it’s not a medical emergency. But you can talk to your health care provider if it bothers you. A doctor or nurse can drain the fluid to help you feel better. Make sure to tell your health care team if the bulge hurts, makes you feel sick, or gets bigger. Although it doesn’t happen very often, seromas can lead to an infection.
What Causes a Seroma?
The exact cause is unknown. But surgeons cut the vessels that carry blood and lymph fluid throughout your body when they remove tissue. When that fluid collects in your body, seromas can form in the open area left behind.
You may get a seroma after these surgeries:
How To Tell If You Have a Seroma
You may notice a lump a week or so after your procedure. If you have drainage tubes from the surgery, you could get a seroma after your doctor removes them. It may feel like you have a liquid-filled cyst under your surgery site.
You may also:
- Hear liquid move around
- Have clear fluid leak out of your wound
What Are the Risk Factors for Developing a Seroma After Surgery?
Experts don’t know exactly why seromas form in some people and not in others. But factors that may increase your chances of getting one include:
Some research suggests you have a higher chance of seromas if you:
- Have high blood pressure
- Are older than 45
- Have a lot of heavy skin removed
If you are a male who gets surgery for breast cancer, a small study shows you may have a higher chance of getting a seroma than a woman does.
Is a Seroma Dangerous? What Are the Complications?
A seroma may not cause you any major health concerns. But it could extend your healing time. If you’re healing from breast cancer surgery, this could delay the next step in your treatment.
A seroma can become a problem if it:
Seromas may increase your chances of lymphedema. This is a more serious condition where lymph tissue causes parts of your body to swell.
When to Talk to a Doctor
See your doctor right away if the area around your seroma is red, warm, or tender. This could be a sign of infection. You should also talk to your doctor if you have:
- An increase in fluid
- Pressure on the surgery site
- Areas that get more swollen (a sign of lymphedema)
- Fever of 100.4 or higher (a sign of infection)
- Fluid that has blood in it (a sign of hematoma)
See your health care provider if you can’t figure out what is causing your swelling.
How Do You Treat a Seroma?
You may not need to do anything other than wait. Your body can absorb fluid from a small seroma. But it may take about a month to go away. Sometimes it can take up to a year. But you don’t need to wait that long, especially if it’s big or sore.
To help get rid of your seroma, a doctor or nurse may:
- Drain the fluid with a needle and syringe
- Drain it more than once
- Put pressure on the swollen area
- Give you a shot to collapse and seal the empty space (sclerotherapy)
If these treatments don’t work, your doctor may need to remove the seroma with another surgery.
Can You Prevent a Seroma?
There isn’t a surefire way to stop a seroma from forming. But your surgeon may try different methods to lower your chances of getting one. These include:
- Drainage tubes: Your doctor may put small tubes under your skin during surgery. If you have a mastectomy, the drains may go in your breast or armpit area. These tubes help remove extra fluid while you heal. You may have them only while you’re in the hospital. But you could need them for a couple more weeks. A health care provider will tell you how to empty them. A provider will also let you know when it’s safe to take them out.
- Dead space closure: Your surgeon may close the empty space with stitches your body can absorb. There is more than one way to do this. One method is quilting. That’s when your surgeon sews your skin flap to another layer of skin. If you have a tummy tuck, your surgeon may use progressive tension sutures. This will tightly pull your abdominal wall to skin above your muscle.
- Fibrin glue: This kind of sealant can close your wound. Doctors need more research to know if this glue can help prevent a seroma. But, some studies show that seromas are less likely when surgeons use fibrin glue and quilting together.
- Delayed shoulder movement: Some experts think you may be less likely to get a seroma if you keep your shoulder still after your mastectomy. But it will take more research to prove this theory.
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International Surgery Journal: “A study to evaluate the factors influencing seroma formation after breast cancer surgery at tertiary care centre.”
Eplasty: “Sclerotherapy for the Management of Seromas: A Systematic Review.”
The Canadian Journal of Plastic Surgery: “Postoperative seroma formation after abdominoplasty with placement of continuous infusion local anesthetic pain pump.”
UW Health: “Lymph Node Dissection.”
The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine: “Postoperative complications in the urgent care setting.”
Annals of Medicine Surgery: “Predisposing factors for seroma formation in patients undergoing thyroidectomy: Cross-sectional study.”
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The American Surgeon: “Abdominal Wall Reconstruction: The Uncertainty of the Impact of Drain Duration upon Outcomes.”
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: “Seroma development following body contouring surgery for massive weight loss: patient risk factors and treatment strategies.”
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Future Oncology: “Techniques in the prevention and management of seromas after breast surgery.”
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International Journal of Surgery: “Prevention of Postoperative Seromas With Dead Space Obliteration.”
Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention: “Men Have a Higher Incidence of Seroma after Breast Cancer Surgery.”
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Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Breast Cancer: Lymphedema After Treatment,” “Mastectomy.”
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Archives of Plastic Surgery: “A Simple, Reliable, and Inexpensive Method for Seroma Drainage.”
Aesthetic Surgery Journal: “Does the Addition of Progressive Tension Sutures to Drains Reduce Seroma Incidence After Abdominoplasty? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”