Chapter 20: Lymphedema Diagnosis and Therapy

Original authors: Audrea Cheville, Cindy Felty, Gail L. Gamble, Peter Gloviczki, Thom W. Rooke, David Strick

Abstracted by Raghu Motaganahalli


  • Introduction
  • Lymphatic system
  • Types of lymphedema
    • Primary lymphedema
    • Secondary lymphedema
    • Symptoms of lymphedema
    • Diagnosis of lymphedema
    • Medical treatment of lymphedema
    • Surgical treatments for lymphedema
  • Commonly asked questions
    • What is lymphedema?
    • What can cause lymphedema?
    • What I do if I have lymphedema?
    • Is surgery for lymphedema a good option?


Lymphedema is swelling in the leg, arm or other parts of the body due to the body's inability to effectively remove lymph fluid (which contains proteins, fatty acids, waste from cell feeding and bacteria that enter the body). Lymphedema can happen because the formation of the lymph vessels during maturation was less than adequate (called primary lymphedema) or damage (injury) has occurred to the normally formed lymph channels and lymph nodes during surgery, from infection, from radiation treatment or other causes. It can also occur from too much lymph fluid being made such as can happen when venous disease is present. Before treating lymphedema itself a physician has to be sure that there is no infectious or other acute medical problem that must be dealt with. The most important medical therapy used for lymphedema is external compression treatments (massage, compression pumping, compression wraps andeventually compression stockings) to decrease the swelling and to keep it down. Surgery for lymphedema is a last option for only a select group of

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