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What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is the swelling of an area of the body, typically an arm or leg, resulting from an accumulation of lymph fluid. Lymph, the transparent waste fluid that is collected from body tissues, is normally removed via the lymphatic system.

However, in lymphedema, the body’s ability to circulate lymph is compromised. Instead of the usual transport of lymph fluid from the lymphatic system to the circulatory system, the lymph fluid accumulates and causes swelling, pain, and increased chance of infection within the affected limb.

Untreated, lymphedema can cause permanent loss of limb function, skin breakdown, chronic infection, and even a lymphatic cancer known as lymphangiosarcoma. Although there is no cure for lymphedema, with early identification and proper intervention as outlined above, lymphedema can be treated and controlled, allowing those affected to lead full and normal lives.

Symptoms of Lymphedema

  • Swelling
  • Sensory changes
  • Loss of range of motion in shoulder or neck
  • Decrease in mobility, independence or upper extremity strength
  • Impaired activities of daily living
  • Sleep disturbances