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What is Lymphoedema?

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.

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 result of the abnormal accumulation of fat underneath the surface of the skin. The condition mainly affects women and is characterised by a painful swelling in the legs, thighs and buttocks and sometimes the arms.

Signs and symptoms caused by the oedema:
Signs include:
  • Dry taut skin
  • Cellulitis
  • Leaking fluid
  • Reduced function
Symptoms include:
  • Pain
  • Heaviness
  • Ache

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: