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The red leg dilemma: a scoping review of the challenges of diagnosing lower limb cellulitis

Patel, M.; Kai, J.; Lee, S.I.; Thomas, K.S.


M. Patel

S.I. Lee


Background: Suspected lower limb cellulitis presentations are commonly misdiagnoses, resulting in avoidable antibiotic prescribing or hospital admissions. Understanding the challenges posed in diagnosing cellulitis may help enhance future care.

Objectives: To examine and map out the challenges and facilitators identified by patients and health professionals in diagnosing lower limb cellulitis.

Methods: A scoping systematic review was performed in MEDLINE and Embase in October 2017. Thematic analysis was used to identify key themes. Quantitative data was summarised by narrative synthesis.

Results: Three themes were explored: (i) clinical case reports of misdiagnosis, (ii) service development and (iii) diagnostic aids. Forty?seven different pathologies were misdiagnosed, including seven malignancies. Two different services have been piloted to reduce the misdiagnosis rates of lower limb cellulitis and save costs. Four studies have looked at biochemical markers, imaging and a scoring tool to aid diagnosis.

Conclusions: This review highlights the range of alternative pathologies that can be misdiagnosed as cellulitis, and emerging services and diagnostic aids developed to minimise misdiagnosis. Future work should focus on gaining a greater qualitative understanding of the diagnostic challenges from the perspective of patients and clinicians.


Patel, M., Kai, J., Lee, S., & Thomas, K. (2019). The red leg dilemma: a scoping review of the challenges of diagnosing lower limb cellulitis. British Journal of Dermatology, 180(5), 993-1000.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 5, 2018
Online Publication Date Nov 13, 2018
Publication Date May 1, 2019
Deposit Date Nov 20, 2018
Publicly Available Date Nov 14, 2019
Journal British Journal of Dermatology
Print ISSN 0007-0963
Electronic ISSN 1365-2133
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 180
Issue 5
Pages 993-1000
Keywords Dermatology
Public URL
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