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Lymphedema (cont.)

What Are the Symptoms of Lymphedema?

Patient Comments

The swelling of lymphedema may be so slight as to barely be noticed, or the swelling may be severe and disfiguring. Pronounced swelling can be accompanied by fatigue when moving the involved extremity, as well as embarrassment.

Over the long-term, the excess fluid and proteins in the tissues cause chronic inflammation and scarring. The swelling is firm and does not retain an indentation (pit) when the skin is compressed by a finger (non-pitting edema). The skin in the involved area can become scaly or cracked, or may develop an orange-peel appearance (peau d'orange). Tenderness and soreness can accompany the swelling and skin changes. Loss of mobility may also occur.

Lymphedema also increases the susceptibility to infection in the affected area. Bacterial infections of the skin and of the subcutaneous tissues (the tissues underlying the skin) are the most common type of infections that occur in affected areas.

When to See a Doctor for Lymphedema

It is appropriate to seek medical care if you believe you have lymphedema.

How Is Lymphedema Diagnosed?

Patient Comments

The diagnosis of lymphedema is often obvious given the history of a surgical procedure or other condition that includes damage to lymph nodes. A careful physical examination and medical history will be necessary to rule out other conditions that can cause limb swelling, such as kidney or heart failure.

In some cases, specialized imaging tests may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis or obtain information about the cause of lymphedema. These may include:

  • CT or MRI scans
  • Doppler ultrasound scans, which can identify deep blood clots that may cause limb swelling
  • Lymphoscintigraphy, which is a test that illustrates the flow of fluid in lymph vessels. A tracer dye is injected into lymph vessels prior to imaging studies.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/21/2016

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