Seroma: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
If you've recently had surgery, especially major surgery, you might be at risk of developing a seroma. Should you be worried? Find out on this lesson on seromas and their symptoms and treatment options.

What is a Seroma?

Although it might look alarming, it's usually not the worst thing that could happen to you. It's a seroma, a noninfectious swelling that occurs as a result of the accumulation of serum in a local area of the body. The words comes to us from 'ser-', which refers to serum or something serous, and '-oma', which implies a swelling of some sort.

Let's learn more about this as well as the signs, symptoms, and treatments of seromas.

What is Serum?

A seroma is like a balloon filled with serum. Serum is the clear straw-colored fluid portion of blood. One component found in serum is albumin, a very important protein found in blood. It is partly responsible for keeping fluid in your blood vessels. Consequently, if albumin escapes the blood vessels, it helps draw fluid out of blood vessels.

Serum has a clear yellow color to it.

Why do Seromas Occur?

Seromas occur after surgeries. Here's the lowdown on how and why.

You are composed of various tissues. These tissues attach to one another in numerous ways. Regardless of how they do so, they try to eliminate as much 'dead space', or empty space, between their tissue planes.

The tissues of your body are either firmly attached to one another so that there is virtually no empty space between them or, if there is space between two sections of tissue, then it's commonly filled with fluid. As an example, the ventricles (spaces) in your heart and brain are filled with blood and cerebrospinal fluid, respectively. The takeaway is that, in general, your body doesn't like dead space and tries to fill it with something if it has to.

So let's say you're a surgeon. You may need to remove some sort of mass, like a benign tumor, out of the body. If you do so, you create dead space in the process because the tumor is no longer there! Since you removed a tumor that was attached to normal tissues in the body you need to attach the tissues back in such a manner as to close up as much empty space as possible between them. If you don't, a seroma may be the end result.

Alternatively, you may not even be removing anything out of the body. Maybe you had to create an incision into the person for another reason. In the process, the tissue layers between something like the skin and tissues underneath may have separated significantly. If you don't eliminate the dead space between them, a seroma can also form.

If it's hard to imagine why, think of a smartphone screen and one of those sticky screen protectors. If you don't attach the screen protector tightly to the screen, what'll happen? A darn air bubble, right? It's empty space between two planes (the screen and sticker). Well if you don't attach two layers of tissues properly back together, an 'air bubble' will form inside the body. This will then be filled with serum to form a seroma.

Why though? Well, any disturbance of tissue planes results in physical trauma to blood vessels or inflammatory trauma to those blood vessels as well. In either case, the blood vessels become leaky (but not enough to bleed out as per a hematoma). What leaks out? Albumin. And what does albumin attract? Fluid. And so you get yourself a seroma.

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