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Lymphedema: Leg Swelling Could Be Serious

It can be uncomfortable and concerning to have unusual swelling in your legs and/or arms. But when uncomfortable progresses to painful, it is time to see your primary care physician. You could be dealing with lymphedema, a condition which requires a medical diagnosis.

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is defined as painful swelling in an arm or leg caused by a lymphatic system blockage made up of an abnormal collection of high-protein fluid just beneath the skin. It can also cause swelling in extremities, swollen lymph nodes or water retention. Lymphedema is not curable but treatment may help.

What causes lymphedema?

Lymphedema is caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system, part of the immune and circulatory systems. Lymphatic fluid is normally transported out of a region of the body by an extensive network of lymph vessels. When the collection of protein-rich fluid persists in a specific area, it can attract more fluid and thus worsen the swelling. In addition to increased fluid in the area, the body experiences an inflammatory reaction resulting in scar tissue called fibrosis in the affected area.

The presence of fibrosis makes it even more difficult for the excess fluid to be eliminated from the area. As a result, the increased fluid and fibrosis prevents the delivery of oxygen and essential nutrients to the area, which in turn can delay wound healing, provide a culture medium for bacteria to grow and increase the risk of infections in or below the skin.

What are the symptoms of lymphedema?

Symptoms of lymphedema include swelling in extremities, swollen lymph nodes or water retention in the extremities. Skin may appear dimpled like an orange peel and rashes may occur. Lymphedema affects women much more commonly than men.

How is it treated?

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for lymphedema. Treatment focuses on reducing the swelling and controlling the pain. Treatment options include exercise, wrapping, massage and compression. If you think you might be suffering from lymphedema, talk to your primary care physician.


The information contained in this article is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice. Patient results will vary based on risk factors, age, disease and medical history and are not guaranteed in any way.

The information contained in this website is neither intended to dictate what constitutes reasonable, appropriate or best care for any given health issue, nor is it intended to be used as a substitute for the independent judgment of a physician for any given health issue. Patient results will vary based on risk factors, age, disease and medical history. Please seek physician's advice. Like any procedure, it may come with benefits, risks or side effects associated. Click here for additional information.

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