Whether your wound is from an injury or from surgery, it is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations for preventing infections. In either case, it’s essential that you monitor the wound for signs of infection. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the risk of developing a surgical site infection is somewhere between 1% and 3%. The risk varies depending on your age and health status, or if you smoke. Being aware of what the fluids that drain from a wound mean can be vital. This way, you’ll know when it’s time to see the doctor to get treatment for an infection.
4 types of wound drainage
According to the Cleveland Clinic, after undergoing surgery, the body exudes excess cells and other bodily fluids out of the surgical site, which means that some wound drainage is necessary to promote healing. Keep in mind, however, that wound drainage can also be one of the first indicators that something is wrong.
There are four types of wound drainage, according to the Urgent Medical Center. While some wound drainage types are completely normal during the healing process, others can be a sign of infection. Read on to learn about the different types of wound drainage.
Serous wound drainage
This type of wound drainage is characterized by a clear and watery fluid seeping from the wound. The serous wound drainage stage is healthy and normal in the beginning stages of a fresh wound. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that during the inflammatory stage of healing, a clear fluid in and around the injury is a good sign, as this is the body’s way of flushing germs to prevent infection.
Sanguineous wound drainage
Sanguineous wound drainage is characterized by fresh blood leaking from the wound. During the beginning inflammatory stages of the healing process, it’s completely normal to experience blood in the drainage. In later stages of wound healing, this can be an indicator that the wound has broken open again.
It can be normal for bandages to unintentionally pull off scabs and cause light bleeding. But if stitches have torn out or the wound has broken back open, this can be a danger sign. Be gentle with your wounds and seek medical advice if a wound has broken back open.
Seropurulent wound drainage
Seropurulent wound drainage is the most common type of wound drainage and is characterized by being watery, thin, and pink in color (sometimes darker red). This type of drainage isn’t a cause for concern (especially in the beginning stages of healing). This is merely an indicator that the wound caused capillary damage.
Purulent wound drainage
Purulent wound drainage is characterized by a thin or thick discharge that can be milky-colored (puss) or grey-colored. In worsening cases, there can be yellow drainage from the wound or green drainage from the wound, and there can even be an unpleasant odor. This type of drainage is always a cause for concern as it indicates an infection. If you’re experiencing this type of wound drainage, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), surgical site infections can become serious. Other symptoms can include additional redness or pain at the incision site and fever. The majority of surgical site infections are treatable with antibiotics so it’s important to get to your doctor so they can take a sample of the fluid and get you on the correct antibiotic treatment.
How long does wound drainage last?
Since every person’s medical history is different and every injury will vary in severity, everyone’s healing time—and therefore, their wound drainage time—will depend on many factors. Keep in mind that the Cleveland Clinic notes that most surgical drains (tubes put in place to assist with draining) are only left in for two weeks. If you’re concerned about fluids still exuding from a wound, definitely seek medical advice.
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, wound healing takes roughly four to six weeks. Wounds that take longer than this are generally considered “chronic wounds” (meaning that, for some reason, your body takes longer to heal than others). Wounds that are slow to heal could be caused by a chronic condition or illness such as diabetes, smoking, or malnutrition. Issues with the wound itself can also affect healing, such as improper dressings (be sure to use the right kind of dressing for specific wounds), tissue edema, hypoxia (lack of oxygen), and infection.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the risk of developing an infection after having had surgery tends to increase if you have certain risk factors such as:
- Having cancer
- Having diabetes
- Being elderly
- Being overweight
- Having a weak immune system
- Surgery on the abdomen
- Surgeries that last more than two hours
Healing Your Wounds
Nobody likes getting hurt or having to heal from surgery. Knowing the different kinds of wound drainage can give you peace of mind that you’ll be aware of any problems that need medical attention. To promote healing, be sure to eat a healthy balanced diet, avoid alcohol and smoking, and get plenty of rest. You can also consult with an experienced wound care center. They can help assess your wound(s), prevent complications, and ultimately, speed up healing.
If you’re experiencing an injury or are worried about a post-surgical wound, check out the team at Haven Health’s complex wound care unit.
How Wounds Heal. (2023).
Surgical Drain Care Instructions. (2018).
Surgical Site Infections. (2023).
Wallace, H., et al. (2022). Wound Healing Phases.