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Understanding Lymphedema


Lymphedema is more common than you think

Lymphedema Causes


 

Primary lymphedema is caused by malformations of the lymphatic system present at birth (congenital), but symptoms may not appear until later in life. Primary lymphedema can be passed from parent to child (hereditary). Lymphedema is also classified as primary when no known cause can be identified.

Secondary lymphedema is more common. It is the result of known damage or ongoing strain to the lymphatic system, such as:

  • Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI)
  • Cancer treatments (removal of lymph nodes and/or radiation therapy)
  • Benign or malignant tumor growth
  • Trauma

Stages of lymphedema


 

It is important to note that while the following lymphedema stages are commonly recognized, there may be differing levels of severity within each stage.

Stage 0

Swelling may not be apparent despite impaired lymphatic function. Symptoms at this stage may include heaviness, tightness or tingling.

Stage 1

With rest and/or elevation, the swollen limb returns to normal size. Pitting may be present. (When pressure is applied to the skin of the swollen area and released an indentation remains.)

Stage 2

The tissue can present with pitting, but often in this stage more significant skin changes are present with development of fibrosis tissue; the tissue may have a spongy feel.

Stage 3

The tissue at this stage can be hard (fibrotic). The swelling may be largely irreversible and the limb can be very large and swollen. Infections are possible at any stage of lymphedema; however, the risk increases as the stages progress.

Lymphedema Signs and Symptoms


Lymphedema typically appears with the following signs and symptoms:

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