Lymphoedema is a condition in which there is a pathological accumulation of fluid in the tissue spaces. This causes swelling and changes to the skin and tissues. It does not resolve by itself.
It can be reversible at first (eg, the swelling may reduce overnight) but if left untreated it will progress, causing permanent damage to the skin and tissues.
Lymphoedema can be present from birth or can arise at times of hormonal fluctuation such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause. This is known as primary lymphoedema.
Secondary lymphoedema occurs when there is damage or trauma to the lymphatic system. This can include:
- Damage incurred from radiotherapy to the lymph nodes during cancer treatment, resulting in a weakened lymphatic system and propensity to lymphoedema.
- Chronic venous disease (CVI) which, over time, challenges the lymphatic system and eventually damages it. This results in lymphovenous disease (phlebolymphoedema) where the venous disease is accompanied by lymphatic oedema.
- Traumatic Injuries: see Post-Traumatic Swelling
- Other causes such as systemic infections, iatrogenic damage, etc.
Lymphoedema cannot be cured entirely but lymph therapy can help to manage the condition. The recommended treatment for lymphoedema is Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT).