What is Lymphoedema?


Lymphoedema is a chronic swelling, usually of a limb (but can occur in any part of the body) that happens as a result of a failure to drain protein rich fluid (lymph) from the body tissues.

Why does it happen?

If the lymphatic system is abnormally formed or gets ­damaged, lymph accumulates in and below the skin ­layers resulting in swelling (oedema).  Usually the blood system and lymphatic system work together to remove fluid from the skin and tissues but if they fail or are obstructed, a build-up can occur.

How does it affect me?

Build-up of lymphatic fluid can cause the affected limb or area to feel heavy, warm and to be more prone to infection.  You may also notice a change in shape or texture of the area and, depending on the ­severity of the oedema, this can affect your hobbies or work

What can I do?

Your therapist will outline a treatment plan for your ­lymphoedema that may include one or all of the ­cornerstones of lymphoedema care described below. Once properly managed and with your ­continuing care, the effect of lymphoedema on your daily life can be minimised.





Exercise helps lymph fluid move through the ­lymphatic system, especially when wearing compression ­garments. This helps to reduce lymphoedema ­swelling ­because ­exercise makes the muscles contract and push lymph through the lymph vessels. Exercise also helps in ­maintaining full range of movement of affected limbs and aids well-being.

 skincare-2x.pngSkin Care

The skin of a swollen limb may be fragile and ­susceptible to damage and infection. The fluid in the limb is rich in ­protein, which is an ideal growth medium for bacteria.

Lymphoedematous skin can be very dry, and small cracks may appear, causing leakage of clear fluid if not treated early.

It is important to moisturise the skin daily to keep it soft and supple. By using non perfumed creams and soap ­substitutes, the risk of skin ­irritation will be ­minimalised. Creams and lotions will often be ­recommended by your therapist.


lymphman-compression-2x.pngCompression Garments

Compression garments, such as a sleeve for an arm or a stocking for a leg, are an important way of controlling lymphoedema. They put pressure on tissues to stop fluid build-up and encourage fluid to drain.

Your compression garment should be fitted by a ­specialist to make sure it’s effective. If it’s too loose, it won’t help with drainage. If it’s too tight, it could restrict blood flow. Your lymphoedema specialist will select the type of ­garment and the grade of pressure appropriate for you. They will also explain how to put on and remove the garment.


Need more help?

The LymphShop Blog and Newsletter features helpful articles clinical experts and patients.

We recommend the Lymphoedema Support Network.


"The Lymphoedema Support Network represents, supports and empowers people affected by lymphoedema, promotes awareness of the condition and campaigns for appropriate, equitable treatment for all."