Vascular Infections

A vascular infection that develops in an artery, vein or graft can become a life-threatening condition if left untreated.  

When a bacterial, fungal or viral infection develops within an artery or a vein (or a graft intended to replace one of these blood vessels), it’s known as a vascular infection. Because this type of infection has direct access to the bloodstream, it’s able to spread throughout the body and, if left untreated, become a life- or limb-threatening condition.

Causes of Vascular Infections

Vascular infections often develop during or following vascular surgery, particularly with procedures involving the bypass, repair or replacement of a blood vessel. For example, staphylococcus bacteria located on a patient’s skin could transfer to the graft being inserted and lead to a staph infection. Because vascular infections can appear months or even years after surgery, it’s important to remain vigilant and seek treatment as needed.

Vascular infections can also develop when an infection in another part of the body enters the bloodstream. Some examples of these infections include:

  • Heart valve infections (endocarditis)
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Severe food poisoning

Symptoms of Vascular Infections

A vascular infection can cause someone to experience:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating (particularly at night)
  • Pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blue spots on the feet

In the event that a vascular infection develops as a result of surgery, the incision site may produce cloudy, foul-smelling discharge.

Diagnosing Vascular Infections

Physicians generally use blood tests to diagnose vascular infections. If a blood test confirms the presence of an infection, the physician may order one or more of the following imaging tests to more precisely identify where the infection is located:

  • Angiogram
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Pulse volume recording (PVR) study
  • Ultrasound

Treatment for Vascular Infections

Treatment for vascular infections will vary from one patient to another based on several factors—including the type, severity and location of the infection—and the vascular specialists at Tampa General Hospital will consider all of these variables when developing an individualized treatment plan. In many cases, physicians are able to treat vascular infections using antibiotics. In some instances, however, surgery may be necessary to remove or replace the infected artery, vein or graft.