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What Is a Seroma?

Surgical procedures can often lead to the development of seromas in the body.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2014
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A seroma is a deposit of lymph formed in the body in response to surgery or physical trauma. These deposits are very common after surgery and they often resolve on their own. If a deposit is large or causes discomfort, it can be drained by a care provider. This side effect is especially common after mastectomies or procedures where lymph nodes are removed.

Surgery causes trauma to the blood and lymph vessels as well as surrounding tissue. In response, the body floods the surgical site with lymph and an inflammatory response occurs, explaining the pain and swelling that occur after surgery. Sometimes, the lymph forms a pocket instead of naturally draining away, and this leads to the formation of a seroma. Patients may be warned about the possibility of developing a lymph buildup after surgery and are usually advised to keep a close eye on the surgical site for developing abnormalities and complications.

Seromas are filled with serous fluid, a yellowish to white fluid that can also be seen in blisters and around fresh cuts. They take the form of lumps under the skin and can be tested to confirm they contain serous fluid and not pus, blood, or other fluid buildups that would be cause for concern. If allowed to heal naturally, the body will slowly reabsorb the fluid over a period ranging from a month to a year. The site may experience some calcification and hardening can be palpable after the seroma heals.

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Doctors may recommend draining if a seroma is causing discomfort. This is done by creating a puncture site to express or draw out the fluid. It is not uncommon for drained seromas to fill back up again and it may be necessary to fit a patient with a drainage tube or to use multiple drainage sessions to keep emptying the area. Drainage increases the risk of infection and must be performed with clean tools in a clean environment to avoid introducing bacteria to the body.

When a seroma is identified by a patient or care provider, the patient may be presented with some treatment options including drainage or leaving the pocket of fluid alone. For cancer patients, one concern with seromas is that they can delay additional cancer treatments while a treatment plan is developed to address them. This can increase the amount of time the patient spends in treatment in addition to altering the prognosis, as every day can count when it comes to cancer treatment.

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anon925341
Post 6

I developed a seroma following a large abdominal hernia repair. I was told by my consultant that it should be absorbed by my body over a period of a few weeks. I have continued to feel quite unwell with a sickly headache which does not respond to any medication, my GP has I formed me that this may be due to toxins from the seroma. Has anyone else had a similar experience of this?

anon344596
Post 5

I had a seroma after a neck lift over five years ago. The doctor couldn't drain it all and it dissolved over time. Now it's five years later and my neck has loosened even worse then before the surgery and there are bumps that look horrible on my neck where the seroma was.

I've been to dermatologists and a plastic surgeon and they both say there is nothing they can do. Do you know of any type of laser or shots that can get rid of those lumps? It may even be scar tissue.

anon334619
Post 4

I developed a grapefruit sized seroma on my right side three years ago following abdominal seatbelt trauma from a serious car accident. Due to a burning sensation and pain, I had it drained a few times, and then finally had it removed.

I have a five inch scar on my right side, along with a nickel sized scar below it where the drainage bulb was. A few days ago, I noticed considerable burning and some pain on my right side below that scar and now am noticing another seroma forming. Also, I can feel several smaller masses throughout my abdomen. Should I consult my same surgeon I used three years ago, or just start out with my primary care physician? I am a little concerned.

anon191262
Post 2

I lifted something heavy in July of 2010, and since then have had severe pain in my low back with radicular symptoms into my hips and legs. The MRI showed a possible seroma, pseudomeningocele or chronic hematoma or an abscess. (The true diagnosis has yet to be determined) I had no bruising or swelling externally and have had no signs of infection.

The location of the seroma is L4,5 - S1 near the thecal sac and is relatively large. I have been asymptomatic since fusion at this level in 2000.

Are you aware of any published studies or documentation where an injury has actually caused a seroma? Thanks for the help!

anon153997
Post 1

I developed a large lumbosacral (lower back) seroma, a week after a fall on to my lower back, slipping down some steps. There was extensive bruising, pain, and swelling.

The bruising started to resolve but it left a large, swelling, that upon palpation was fluctuant. It has started to diminish in volume two weeks after the fall. I had a CT lumbosacral spine to exclude an underlying fracture but don't have the results. I expect the seroma - estimated 100-200ml to resolve. I write this because there was nothing written about it. I am an M.D., but had no knowledge of seromas prior to this experience.

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