Your Guide to Seroma: Everything to Know

Medically Reviewed By Darragh O'Carroll, MD

A seroma is a buildup of clear fluid under the skin. It most often occurs after surgery, but it can also happen due to injury. Seroma is a common complication of surgical procedures that create a cavity where fluid can collect. Seroma formation may occur due to fluid leaking out of the symphatic vessels, or it may be the result of infection or breakdown of the surgical site.

Read on to find out more about what causes a seroma. This guide also includes information about symptoms, treatments, diagnosis, and more.

What does a seroma look like?

View the slideshow below for seroma pictures.

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Seroma is a collection of clear fluid that can happen after surgery.

Photography courtesy of Arch Gynecol Obstet/NCBI

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Seroma can occur after surgery and is a collection of clear fluid. It is not a sign of infection.

The Korean Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons/NCBI

seroma.jpg

This shows seroma, which is a collection of fluid, in the breast of a male many years after surgery.

© 2021 the Author(s). Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc/NCBI

What causes seroma fluid?

There is a needle and thread.
AUDSHULE/Stocksy United

Seroma fluid refers to the fluid, or serum, that collects in open spaces beneath the skin. This can happen for a number of reasons, either after surgery or following an injury Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .

Possible causes of seromas include:

  • fibrosis, which happens as a result Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of the scarring process following surgery
  • subclinical infection, which is an infection without any symptoms
  • drainage from a lymphatic vessel
  • abnormalities in the lining of cells

Examples of surgical procedures that can result in seroma include:

Discover self-care tips for after surgery.

What are the symptoms of seroma?

Depending on the type of surgery, a seroma can take up to 7–10 days to appear. It will usually happen near the site of the incision.

Symptoms of seroma include:

  • bump or lump underneath the skin
  • sensation of straining against the stitches
  • possible pain

In addition to seroma, there are other symptoms you may experience after an operation. Find out about symptoms not to ignore after surgery.

How is seroma treated?

In many cases, a seroma can reabsorb back into the body without treatment. However, if your seroma causes you pain or if it strains against the stitches at the incision site, you may require treatment.

Possible treatments for seroma Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source include:

  • seroma aspiration, which involves inserting a needle into the seroma to drain it
  • closed-suction drainage, which is when a medical professional squeezes a suction bulb Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source that then drains the fluid
  • sclerotherapy, which involves filling the empty space with an irritating substance to trigger fibrosis, which seals it off Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source
  • lymphatic ligation, which involves tying off lymphatic channels to prevent leakage

Q:

Does massaging a seroma help?

Anonymous

A:

Occasionally massaging a seroma can assist in your body reabsorbing the excess fluid, but if it has occurred after a surgery, it’s extremely important to first check with your surgeon. If the seroma is directly under a surgical wound or stitches, massaging can do more harm than good. When in doubt, reach out to your physician.

Darragh O’Carroll, MD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

When should I contact a doctor?

Contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about a seroma. In some cases, you may not require treatment, but it is important to inform your doctor so that they can monitor it in case of infection.

If the seroma causes you pain, informing your doctor as soon as possible can help ensure that you can receive treatment as soon as possible.

How is seroma diagnosed?

If you present with a seroma following injury, your doctor will take a full medical history and carry out a physical examination. If they suspect you have a seroma, they can then arrange for an ultrasonography to confirm diagnosis.

If a seroma occurs as a complication of surgery, your doctor or another medical professional can monitor the site during your recovery. This means that they can observe the area of the incision for any signs of seroma. An ultrasonography procedure can also confirm the diagnosis before they provide treatment.

What are the risk factors for seroma?

There are certain risk factors that may make you more likely to develop seroma. These include Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source :

  • elevated body mass index, or BMI
  • presence of a large empty space, which can occur after the removal of tissue during surgery
  • electrocautery procedure

Medical professionals can reduce these risks. They can do so by minimizing the amount of empty space following surgery, preventing damage to lymph nodes, and treating individuals at a higher risk of seroma without invasive surgery, if possible.

However, even when preventative measures are in place, a seroma still may form Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .

What are the complications of seroma?

It is possible that complications can occur with a seroma. They include infections and abscesses Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .

Signs of infection include:

  • redness or discoloration
  • warmth
  • tenderness
  • swollen seroma

If the seroma is large or causes a lot of strain against stitches, the wound may also open up and cause seroma fluid to leak out.

Contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about a seroma. Also get medical advice if you notice symptoms of infection.

Learn about the warning signs of infection after surgery.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some more frequently asked questions about seromas.

Do seromas go away on their own?

It is possible for seromas to go away on their own as the fluid reabsorbs into the body.

What happens if seroma is left untreated?

While you may not require treatment for a seroma, if it causes strain at the site of the incision, then it can cause the wound to open up and leak seroma fluid. You can also develop an infection with a seroma. It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you notice the seroma to avoid complications.

How long does it take for seroma to heal?

In most cases, your body will reabsorb the seroma in about a month. However, in some cases, it can take up to a year.

Summary

A seroma is a collection of clear fluid or serum that builds up in a cavity under the skin. This can frequently happen following surgery, but it can also occur due to injury.

In some cases, the seroma will reabsorb back into your body without the need for treatment. However, if the seroma causes pain or strains against stitches, then you may need treatment to drain it.

Contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about a seroma. They can advise on whether treatment is necessary, and monitor it for signs of infection.

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  1. Armata, N. N. (n.d.). Seroma. https://www.osmosis.org/answers/seroma
  2. Chacur, R., et al. (2019). Aesthetic correction of lesion by post-liposuction corticoid infiltration using subcision, PMMA filling, and CO2 laser. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6968505/
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  4. Ramesh, B.A., et al. (2021). Suction drains. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557687/
  5. Sandhu, H. S., et al. (2021). Lymphatic contribution in a chronic breast seroma: A case report. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/fdcc/fe15e2baaffcd09caff33e049abdf717aa02.pdf?_ga=2.76283862.271713552.1657208319-314910196.1650620928
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  7. Seroma (fluid build-up). (2022). https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment-side-effects/seroma
  8. Sood, A., et al. (2017). Sclerotherapy for the management of seromas: A systematic review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5575675/

Medical Reviewer: Darragh O'Carroll, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 4
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