Lymphoedema: Meaning, Diagnosis and Overview

What is Lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is a chronic (long-term) condition that causes abnormal buildup of fluid that result in swelling of body’s tissue. This usually affects the arms or legs, leading to pain and loss of mobility, although in some cases there may be swelling in the chest, head and genitals. The condition develops when lymph vessels or lymph nodes are missing, impaired, damaged or removed.
There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary. 
  • Primary lymphedema is rare and is caused by the absence of certain lymph vessels at birth, or abnormalities in the lymphatic vessels. 
  • Secondary lymphedema occurs as a result of a blockage or interruption that alters the flow of lymph through the lymphatic system and can develop from an infection, malignancy, surgery, scar tissue formation, trauma, radiation, or other cancer treatment. 


Lymphedema is diagnosed after a careful evaluation of medical history, including past surgeries and treatments, an evaluation of current medications and symptoms, and a complete physical examination. Sometimes, additional tests may be needed.
  • CT or MRI scans
  • Lymphoscintigraphy
  • Doppler ultrasound scans

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