Lymphoedema is a chronic form of swelling (oedema) due to the accumulation of fluid in the tissues underneath the surface of the skin.  The oedema can vary in amount and affect any part of the body i.e.  arms, legs, head and neck, and the body trunk.  


There are 2 types of lymphoedema: primary lymphoedema and secondary lymphoedema.  Other forms of swelling include lipoedema and post-surgical oedema as a consequence of cosmetic and liposuction surgery.

Primary Lymphoedema

There are different types of primary lymphoedema, each caused by faulty genes responsible for the development of the lymphatic system. 


The absence and / or non-working of lymph vessels in parts of the lymphatic system undermines the drainage of lymph fluid from the affected area.   Primary lymphoedema can run in families and be present at birth or develop later in life.


Secondary Lymphoedema

Secondary lymphoedema develops in people who previously had a normal lymphatic system that then becomes damaged by an external cause e.g. cancer and the effects of treatment, infection (cellulitis), obesity, immobility, venous disease and trauma and injury. 


What is lipoedema? 

Lipoedema is the abnormal build-up of fat cells in the legs, thighs and buttocks, and sometimes affecting the arms.  The cause is currently unknown. The condition occurs in females and results in bilateral and asymmetrical limb swelling. Attempts at weight loss result in fat loss from areas of the body that are unaffected by lipoedema; usually the body trunk and thereby exacerbating the (unchanged) size of the lipoedema affecting the limbs. 

Other signs and symptoms include:

•         Ache and heaviness of the affected area(s)

•         Soft, nodular skin texture

•         Loss in limb shape

•         Difficulty with clothes fitting


is an infection of the skin and underlying tissue that can develop in a swollen area very quickly. The symptoms of redness, pain and heat are accompanied by a feeling of general un-wellness, and, in severe cases, systematic upset and high fever. Antibiotics and rest are needed immediately. Treatment necessitates an immediate (urgent) attendance at a GP surgery, an NHS `Walk In` Centre or a call to the NHS 111 service.   

Consensus Document on the Management of Cellulitis in Lymphoedema:



Signs and symptoms caused by the oedema

Depending on the cause, signs and symptoms include:  


Oedema (swelling)

Reduced function and mobility

Infection (cellulitis)


Leaking lymph fluid (lymphorrhoea)

Dry skin









Clothing issues (too tight over swollen area)

Footwear issues (in the presence of swollen feet)

Impact on: body image, work, driving