What Are the Basics of Lymphedema?

What is the definition of lymphedema?

Lymphedema means the swelling that mainly appears in your arms or legs.

Mostly, it is caused by the removal of or damage to your lymph glands. Since your lymphatic system isn’t working well, extra fluid may build up in your tissue. It is often an adverse effect of cancer treatments.

There are two types of lymphedema. If it occurs on its own, it is called primary lymphedema; however, if it appears because of certain disease or condition, it is secondary lymphedema.

Although there is no cure for lymphedema yet, you can take therapies to reduce the symptoms.


What are the symptoms of lymphedema?

These symptoms may occur in your affected arm or leg:

  • Swelling, mostly common in your arm or leg
  • Feeling heaviness or tightness
  • Recurring infections
  • Thickening of the skin

If you find continuous swelling in your arm or leg, see a doctor as soon as possible.


What are the early signs of lymphedema?

Sometimes lymphedema caused by cancer treatment may not appear until a long period time after treatment. However, if you find these early signs, remember to see a doctor as soon as possible:

  • Swelling in the arms, legs, fingers, hands, chest, or shoulders
  • Skin tightness
  • Hand, wrist or ankle being less flexible

  • Feeling of heavy in the arms or legs
  • Having trouble fitting into cloth, bracelet, watch, ring, especially in one specific area


What are the causes of lymphedema?

When there is something wrong with your lymphatic system, the lymph vessels may be unable to drain lymph fluid, then lymphedema appears.

If you have primary lymphedema, the causes may be:

  • Late-onset lymphedema
  • Meige’s disease
  • Milroy’s disease

If you have secondary lymphedema, which is far more common, the causes include:

  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • Radiation treatment for cancer
  • Surgery

However, sometimes it occurs without a clear reason.


What are the treatments for lymphedema?

Your treatments depend on the condition of your swelling and its cause. For example, if your lymphedema is caused by an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Treatments include:

  • Bandaging
    Wrapping your arm or leg can encourage the fluid to flow back.
  • Compression garments
    These can also encourage the lymph fluid flow back from your limb.
  • Exercises
    Gentle exercises can help lymph fluid drainage and make you prepare for daily tasks.
  • Massage
    Professional therapist can help drain the lymph fluid by a special massage technique.

Remember to receive professional treatments as early as possible. Prompt treatments can bring better results.


Here is some basic information about lymphedema. If you want to explore more, it is recommended to turn to a professional doctor.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.