(Primary Lymphedema; Secondary Lymphedema)
How to Say It: lim-fah-DEE-ma
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Lymphedema is swelling in the tissues. It occurs when the lymph system is not working well. The lymph system is made of organs, vessels, nodes, and fluids. It is part of the immune system.
There are two types:
Primary lymphedema is caused by defects of the nodes or vessels. It is due to a birth defect or change in genes. It is found in conditions such as:
Secondary lymphedema is caused by conditions that block the flow of fluid. Examples are:
Things that raise the risk are:
Symptoms of lymphedema include:
Lymphedema can also lead to problems such as:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health past. A physical exam will be done. Lymphedema may be diagnosed based on the exam.
If the cause is unclear, more tests may be needed, including blood tests. Images may be taken such as:
Treatment depends on the cause. Options may be:
Good skin care can help prevent skin damage and infections.
For severe cases, surgery may be done to unblock the lymph vessels.
The risk may be lowered by managing health problems that cause lymphedema. Early treatment can make a big difference.
National Cancer Institute
National Lymphedema Network
Canadian Cancer Society
Lymphedema Association of Quebec
Borman P. Lymphedema diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up from the view point of physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists. Turk J Phys Med Rehabil. 2018 Sep; 64(3): 179–197.
Lymphedema—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/lymphedema-approach-to-the-patient . Accessed January 18, 2021.
Lymphedema. Society for Vascular Surgery website. Available at: https://vascular.org/patient-resources/vascular-conditions/lymphedema. Accessed January 18, 2021.
Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 1/18/2021
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