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Cellulitis vs. Phlebitis — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on September 7, 2023
Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection, while Phlebitis is inflammation of a vein. Cellulitis often manifests as a red, swollen area, and Phlebitis can cause pain and localized redness along a vein.
Cellulitis vs. Phlebitis — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Cellulitis and Phlebitis


Key Differences

Cellulitis is primarily an infection affecting the skin's deeper layers and is usually caused by bacteria. Phlebitis, on the other hand, involves the inflammation of the veins and is often related to intravenous procedures or trauma. While both conditions may present with redness and swelling, Cellulitis typically affects a broader area and may accompany fever.
Cellulitis is commonly caused by Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria and often arises from a break in the skin. Phlebitis may occur post-surgery or after intravenous treatments and could be classified into superficial or deep vein types. Cellulitis necessitates antibiotic treatment to eliminate the bacterial infection, whereas Phlebitis usually requires anti-inflammatory medication.
In terms of symptoms, Cellulitis often exhibits a rapidly expanding red, swollen, and warm area of the skin, usually on the legs. Phlebitis tends to present localized redness and tenderness along the course of an affected vein, commonly in the legs but can also occur in the arms. Phlebitis may also involve a clot in the vein, making the condition potentially more severe.
Cellulitis may become a serious issue if not treated promptly, possibly leading to systemic infection. Phlebitis, especially the deep vein type, can lead to complications like a pulmonary embolism if a clot dislodges and travels to the lungs. In sum, both Cellulitis and Phlebitis are conditions requiring medical attention but differ significantly in causes, treatment, and potential complications.

Comparison Chart


Bacterial infection
Vein inflammation


Anti-inflammatory meds

Common Sites

Legs, arms
Legs, arms


Systemic infection
Pulmonary embolism


Expanding red area
Localized redness along a vein

Compare with Definitions


A bacterial infection affecting the deeper layers of skin.
She was treated for cellulitis after noticing a rapidly spreading red patch on her leg.


An inflammation of a vein, often in the leg.
The nurse noticed signs of phlebitis around the IV site.


Typically caused by Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria.
The doctor said her cellulitis was likely due to a Staph infection.


Can lead to complications like a pulmonary embolism.
The doctor warned that untreated phlebitis could result in a pulmonary embolism.


Can result from a break in the skin.
The bug bite on his arm developed into cellulitis.


Treated with anti-inflammatory medications.
He was given medication to help with his phlebitis symptoms.


An inflammation of body tissue (especially that below the skin) characterized by fever and swelling and redness and pain


Often caused by intravenous procedures or trauma.
The surgery left her with a mild case of phlebitis.


Cellulitis is a bacterial infection involving the inner layers of the skin. It specifically affects the dermis and subcutaneous fat.


Inflammation of a vein.


An acute, spreading, bacterial infection of the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Cellulitis often originates from an infected wound and can lead to serious illness in the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.


May be associated with a clot in the affected vein.
His phlebitis was complicated by a small clot.


An inflammation of subcutaneous or connective tissue caused by a bacterial infection


Inflammation of the walls of a vein.


A skin condition often marked by redness, swelling, and warmth.
His cellulitis symptoms were severe enough to require hospitalization.


Inflammation of a vein.


Requires antibiotic treatment for effective resolution.
She was prescribed antibiotics for her cellulitis.


Phlebitis or venitis is the inflammation of a vein, usually in the legs. It most commonly occurs in superficial veins.


Inflammation of subcutaneous connective tissue.


(pathology) Inflammation of a vein, usually in the legs.


An inflammantion of the cellular or areolar tissue, esp. of that lying immediately beneath the skin.


Inflammation of a vein (usually in the legs)

Common Curiosities

How is Phlebitis treated?

Usually with anti-inflammatory medications.

What are common symptoms of Cellulitis?

Expanding red, swollen, warm area on the skin.

What is Cellulitis?

A bacterial skin infection affecting the deeper layers of skin.

What is Phlebitis?

Inflammation of a vein, often in the legs or arms.

How is Cellulitis treated?

With antibiotics.

What causes Phlebitis?

Often intravenous procedures or trauma.

Can Cellulitis lead to other complications?

Yes, untreated cellulitis can lead to systemic infection.

Where does Cellulitis commonly occur?

Often on legs or arms.

What causes Cellulitis?

Typically bacterial infection, often through a break in the skin.

What are common symptoms of Phlebitis?

Localized redness and tenderness along an affected vein.

Can Phlebitis lead to other complications?

Yes, particularly pulmonary embolism if a clot is present.

Where does Phlebitis commonly occur?

Usually in the legs but can also be in the arms.

Is Cellulitis contagious?

No, but the bacteria causing it can be spread.

Is Phlebitis contagious?

No, it's inflammation and not an infection.

Do both Cellulitis and Phlebitis require medical attention?

Yes, both conditions need medical diagnosis and treatment.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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