Lymphedema : How to check if you have Lymphedema?


The word "lymphedema" refers to tissue swelling caused by an accumulation of protein-rich fluid, which is generally eliminated by the body's lymphatic system. Whilst it can also affect the genitalia, chest wall, belly, and neck, it frequently affects the arms or legs.

Your lymph nodes are a critical component of your lymphatic system. Cancer therapies that harm or remove your lymph nodes might result in lymphedema. Any problem that stops the lymph fluid from draining might result in lymphedema.

Severe lymphedema can impair motion in the afflicted limb, raise the risk of sepsis and skin infections, and cause skin abnormalities and disintegration. Treatment options include compression stockings, massage, sequential pneumatic pumping, compression bandages, meticulous skin care, and, in exceptional cases, surgery. 


A network of tubes called the lymphatic system circulates lymph fluid, which is rich in proteins, throughout the body. It is a component of the immune system. Filtering lymph nodes contain cells that combat infection and cancer.

When you go about your daily activities, your muscles contract, pushing the lymph fluid through the lymph vessels along with tiny pumps built into the lymph vessels' walls. Lymphedema occurs when the lymph veins of an arm or leg are unable to adequately drain lymph fluid.

The following are the most typical causes of lymphedema:

Cancer. Lymphedema might develop if cancer cells obstruct lymphatic veins. For instance, a tumor that is close to a lymph node or lymph artery may swell to the point where it blocks the lymph's passage.

Cancer radiation therapy. Radiation can result in a lymph node or lymph vessel scarring and inflammation.

Surgery. To determine whether cancer has spread, lymph nodes are frequently removed during cancer surgery. Nevertheless, lymphedema is not necessarily the end effect of this.

Parasites. The most frequent cause of lymphedema in tropical developing nations is an infection with worms that block the lymph nodes.

Less frequently, hereditary diseases where the lymphatic system does not develop properly cause lymphedema.

How to check if you have Lymphedema?

If you detect chronic swelling in your arm or leg, schedule a visit with your doctor. See your doctor if the size of the affected limb increases suddenly and dramatically if you already have lymphedema.

Risk Factors

Following are some elements that might raise the likelihood of acquiring lymphedema:

  • Greater age
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Either psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis


Signs and symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • Swelling of the whole or just a portion of the arm, leg, fingers, or toes
  • A sensation of weight or constriction
  • Limitation of movement
  • Persistent infections
  • Progressively thicker and more rigid skin (fibrosis)
  • Mild to severe signs and symptoms are possible. Cancer-related lymphedema may not manifest for months or even years following treatment.


Lymphedema does not have a treatment. The goal of treatment is to reduce oedema and avoid complications.


Skin infections are considerably increased by lymphedema (cellulitis). In order for you to begin taking antibiotics as soon as symptoms arise, your doctor may prescribe medicines for you to keep on hand.


You may learn about the methods and tools that can help lessen lymphedema swelling from specialised lymphedema therapists. Examples comprise:

Exercises. Moving the extra fluid out of the swollen limb might be assisted by gently contracting the muscles in the arm or leg.

Lymphatic draining by hand. The trapped fluid in the swollen limb is moved into a location with functioning lymph vessels by therapists skilled in this 

massage-like method using very mild pressure. 

Bandages for compression. When low-stretch bandages are used to wrap the entire leg, lymph fluid returns to the body's trunk.

Compression clothing. Compressing the arm or leg with tightly fitted elastic stockings or sleeves might promote lymph fluid outflow. To ensure that the appropriate level of compression is applied, these garments frequently need a prescription. To achieve a correct fit, you might need to be professionally measured.

Compression of a pneumatic sequence. A pump that is attached to a sleeve that is worn over the afflicted arm or leg periodically inflates the sleeve, applying pressure to the limb and drawing lymph fluid away from the fingers or toes.

Techniques, both surgical and otherwise

Transplanting lymph nodes. The network of lymph vessels in the damaged limb is then connected with lymph nodes that have been removed from another part of the body. With this operation, many persons with early-stage lymphedema can reduce the amount of compression required and see positive effects.

Fresh drainage systems. This treatment establishes new connections between the lymph network and blood arteries and is another option for treating early-stage lymphedema. Following that, blood arteries are used to drain the extra lymph fluid from the leg.

Fibrous tissue removal. The soft tissues of the limb become fibrous and hardened in severe lymphedema. The function of the limb can be enhanced by removing part of this hardened tissue, frequently by liposuction. Hardened skin and tissue may be removed with a scalpel in really severe situations. 

Complications of Lymphedema

Complications from lymphedema may include:

Skin maladies (cellulitis). The trapped fluid serves as a breeding ground for bacteria, and even the slightest wound to the arm or leg might let an infection in. The affected skin is often painful and heated to the touch, and it appears swollen and red. In order for you to start taking antibiotics right away, your doctor may prescribe medicines for you to keep on hand.

Sepsis. In the absence of treatment, sepsis, a potentially fatal illness that develops when the body's defence against an infection destroys its own tissues, can be brought on by untreated cellulitis by spreading into the circulation. Medical intervention is urgently needed for sepsis.

Through-the-skin leakage. When there is a lot of swelling, the lymph fluid might blister or leak via tiny skin tears.

Skin alterations. In some individuals with severe lymphedema, the skin of the afflicted limb can become thick and rigid, resembling elephant skin.

Cancer. The worst cases of untreated lymphedema can lead to a rare kind of soft tissue cancer.

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Page last reviewed: Mar 17, 2023

Next review due: Mar 17, 2025

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