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Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 6, 2024.

What do I need to know about lymphedema?

Lymphedema is the buildup of lymph fluid in fat tissue under your skin. The buildup causes the area to swell. The lymph system contains fluid, vessels, tissue, and organs. This system removes and carries fluid throughout the body. It also helps the body fight infection. Lymphedema can happen any time lymphatic vessels are blocked or damaged.

What increases your risk for lymphedema?

What are the signs and symptoms of lymphedema?

Signs and symptoms may develop where lymph nodes were removed, or in the arm, leg, chest, or underarm.

How is lymphedema diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine areas of swelling and ask about your symptoms. Tell your provider if you have ever had cancer, radiation treatment, or surgery. You may need an ultrasound, MRI, CT, or nuclear scan. These tests take pictures of the lymphatic system. They may show areas of fluid buildup. You may be given contrast liquid to help the lymphatic system show up better in pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. The MRI machine uses a powerful magnet. Metal can cause serious injury from the magnet. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body. You may need other tests to check for other causes of swelling.

How is lymphedema treated?

Lymphedema cannot be cured. Treatment may relieve symptoms and prevent lymphedema from getting worse. You may need any of the following:

How can I manage my symptoms?

How do I care for my skin and help prevent infection?

A skin infection can make lymphedema worse. Do the following to decrease your risk for a skin infection in your arm or leg with lymphedema:

When should I call my doctor?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Learn more about Lymphedema

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.