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What is Serous Drainage?

By Lee Woodard ; Updated July 27, 2017

Serous drainage is normal drainage from a healing wound or incision. Knowing what to expect during the healing process, which begins immediately, is empowering as an active participant in your own health care and will allay any needless concerns.


The word "serous" means containing, relating to, or resembling serum. Serous drainage is any drainage from a body cavity or wound that contains serum, is related to serum, or resembles serum. Serum in the human body is a watery, clear fluid.


When the body receives a wound or open area, whether through injury or surgery, there is a potential for 4 different types of fluids to drain from the area. Each is an indication of the processes taking place, signaling whether your body is successfully healing itself or if there is a condition or conditions which are interfering with the proper healing of the wound.


Sanguinous or bloody drainage: When a wound is fresh, there is likely to be bright red drainage from it which indicates active injury. The body rushes blood to the area to begin the healing process immediately upon injury or incision. After surgery or incision, there may be small amounts of bloody drainage from the incision area. In some cases larger amounts of blood can be expected and will likely be contained within a wound drainage system secured to the surgical area. Serous or clear drainage: A clear, watery drainage or presence of fluid on the wound or draining from the wound/incision site. This is one of the normal processes of early healing, but should subside after the healing process is sufficiently underway, which will depend on the type and severity of the wound or incision. Sero-sanguinous or pink or white drainage with flecks or rivulets of blood: This type of drainage is not uncommon early in the healing process. The amount of such drainage may indicate to health-care providers that active bleeding is continuing in the wound or under the incision site. Purulent or pus drainage: Purulent drainage may be yellow, green or light brown in color with a characteristic smell of pus. This is not a normal type of drainage from a wound or incision area and will likely be accompanied with increased redness, warmth and some swelling to the wound or incision area and you may experience an elevated temperature. Purulent drainage should be reported to your health-care provider as soon as possible.


The Pilonidal Support Alliance details another drainage that you are likely to notice beginning about 5 days after surgery, a drainage called exudate. This drainage may vary in color from white to yellow to gray to light brown and have a small amount of odor. This drainage is from your body working to cleanse itself of dead tissue and other materials which interfere with the healing process. If the drainage has a strong odor, or any signs of infection are present such as increase warmth and redness, increased pain, and/or swelling to the incision site, contact your health-care provider.


Your health-care provider should provide you with instructions on what to expect during the healing process of a wound that required medical attention or a surgical incision site. These are common signs and symptoms which should be relayed to your health-care provider if you notice them: Blood gushing from the area, presence of large blood clots, a large amount of serous fluid draining from the area, redness, tenderness, increased warmth, swelling or the presence of fever.

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