What is lymphedema and what are the signs?

Wendy Krueger, OTR, Certified Lymphedema Therapist
Edema Legs

Lymphedema is an abnormal collection of high-protein fluid just beneath the skin. While this swelling, or edema, occurs most commonly in the arm or leg, it may also occur in other parts of the body including the breast, trunk, head and neck. Lymphedema usually develops when lymph vessels are damaged or lymph nodes are removed (secondary lymphedema). Cancer, surgery, radiation, trauma and infection are common causes of lymphedema.  Lymphedema can also be present when lymphatic vessels are missing or impaired due to a heredity condition (primary lymphedema).

Signs of lymphedema may be:

  • Full or heavy sensation
  • Tenderness
  • New aching or discomfort
  • Skin changes: tightness or hardness or redness
  • Swelling in an area
  • Less movement in nearby joints
  • Hardening and thickening of the skin
  • Clothes or jewelry feel tighter and you haven’t gained weight

Early detection of lymphedema is essential. Seek help before the swelling gets worse. Talk to your healthcare provider for a referral for lymphedema therapy. Treatment consists of gentle massage, compression, exercise, self-cares and infection prevention. Lymphedema services are available in Fond du Lac, Ripon and Waupun.

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