Axillary abscess

General information

Abscesses are usually pus-filled cavities that have no abscess duct (different from fistula) and can spread to different parts of the body. In addition to pus, inflammatory fluids that are part of an abscess can also be present. In some cases these abscesses can also spread in the area of the arm or under the armpits (axilla). This clinical picture is then also called axillary abscess.


In most cases an abscess in the area of the armpit (axilla) is caused by inflamed sweat glands. The cause of why sweat glands become inflamed is not known, but it is assumed that the bacterial load of the skin is higher in affected persons than in healthy ones and that the natural bacteria of the skin multiply too quickly and too numerously. If this is the case and the body care is only carried out on average or even below average, it is possible that the bacteria can get into the sweat glands and lead to a corresponding inflammation.

It is also possible that the axilla abscess formation comes from the direction of the lymph nodes, which are located under both arms in the armpit area. Often with infections of a general nature (e.g. flu-like infections) the lymph nodes in this area swell (lymph node swelling in the armpit). In some, albeit rare, cases, the pathogens migrate.

This can then lead to abscess formation near the lymph nodes. Another cause of abscesses in the axilla area are previous operations in the immediate vicinity. Regardless of the type and form of the operation, it inevitably leads to adhesions under the skin and corresponding scarring in the area of the incision.

These scars either heal without any problems, but in some cases can also become inflamed. In severe cases this can lead to abscess formation, which leads to the typical symptoms. During shaving, tiny micro injuries of the skin in the axilla can occur, which can all be entry ports for bacteria into the body.

Thus, if bacteria penetrate the locally weakened skin barrier, they can lead to an infection, which can manifest itself either as a mild to severe inflammation or in the worst case even as an abscess. This always depends on which type of bacteria penetrates the skin. A known pathogen for abscesses is the rod bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. If this enters the body after shaving via the micro-injuries of the axillary skin, it can cause an abscess of the axilla on the spot.

Symptoms of an abscess of the axilla

As with any abscess, a reddening of the skin may occur at the corresponding part of the body, or the edges of the protrusion may be reddish. The abscess of the axilla is usually bulging and causes pain on palpation. Depending on the size of the swelling, there may also be restrictions in arm movement.

In the case of an abscess under the arm, stretching the arm upwards is usually described as painful, as is the tight positioning of the arm against the body wall. In addition to the local complaints, there may also be corresponding general symptoms such as

  • Swelling and a
  • Bulge of the skin. – Exhaustion,
  • A worsening of the general condition or fever.

An abscess of the axilla is an encapsulated accumulation of pus in the armpit, more precisely in a tissue cavity of the skin of the armpit. Pus is an accumulation of bacteria and immune cells that leads to inflammation and melting of the surrounding tissue. When the body is infected with a bacterium, the immune system is activated, certain defence cells, the neutrophil granulocytes, fight the bacteria, perish in the process and, together with the bacteria and the cells of the environment that have died as a result of the inflammatory reaction, are destroyed.