Lymphedema refers to tissue swelling caused by an accumulation of protein-rich fluid that's usually drained through the body's lymphatic system. It most commonly affects the arms or legs, but can also occur in the chest wall, abdomen, neck and genitals.

Lymph nodes are an important part of your lymphatic system. Lymphedema can be caused by cancer treatments that remove or damage your lymph nodes. Any type of problem that blocks the drainage of lymph fluid can cause lymphedema.
Severe cases of lymphedema can affect the ability to move the affected limb, increase the risks of skin infections and sepsis, and can lead to skin changes and breakdown. Treatment may include compression bandages, massage, compression stockings, sequential pneumatic pumping, careful skin care and, rarely, surgery to remove swollen tissue or to create new drainage routes.
Lymphedema signs and symptoms include:

Signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe. Lymphedema caused by cancer treatment may not occur until months or years after treatment.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice persistent swelling in your arm or leg. If you've already been diagnosed with lymphedema, see your doctor if there is a sudden dramatic increase in the size of the involved limb.
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that carry protein-rich lymph fluid throughout the body. It's part of your immune system. Lymph nodes act as filters and contain cells that fight infection and cancer.
The lymph fluid is pushed through the lymph vessels by muscle contractions as you move through the tasks of your day and small pumps in the wall of the lymph vessels. Lymphedema occurs when the lymph vessels are not able to adequately drain lymph fluid, usually from an arm or leg.
The most common causes of lymphedema include:

Less commonly, lymphedema results from inherited conditions in which the lymphatic system doesn't develop properly.
Risk factors
Factors that may increase the risk of developing lymphedema include:

Lymphedema complications may include:

If you're at risk of lymphedema — for instance, if you've recently had cancer surgery involving your lymph nodes — your doctor may diagnose lymphedema based on your signs and symptoms.
If the cause of your lymphedema isn't as obvious, your doctor may order imaging tests to get a look at your lymph system. Tests may include:

There's no cure for lymphedema. Treatment focuses on reducing the swelling and preventing complications.
Lymphedema greatly increases the risk of skin infections (cellulitis). Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for you to keep on hand so that you can start taking them immediately once symptoms appear.

Specialized lymphedema therapists can teach you about techniques and equipment that can help reduce lymphedema swelling. Examples include:

Surgical and other procedures
Surgical treatment for lymphedema may include:

Lifestyle and home remedies
To reduce the risk of complications from lymphedema, avoid injuring the affected limb. Cuts, scrapes and burns can invite infection. Protect yourself from sharp objects. For example, shave with an electric razor, wear gloves when you garden or cook, and use a thimble when you sew.
Coping and support
It can be frustrating to know there's no cure for lymphedema. However, you can control some aspects of lymphedema. To help you cope, try to:

Preparing for your appointment
Here's some information to help you get ready for the appointment with your doctor.
What you can do
List the following:

For lymphedema, some basic questions to ask the doctor include:

Don't hesitate to ask other questions, as well.
What to expect from the doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:

What you can do in the meantime
Keep the swollen limb elevated as much as possible and protect your skin from injury. The swelling from lymphedema might dull pain from an injury or burn, so don't use heating pads on the affected limb. Moisturize your skin daily


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