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Disease Information : Lymphedema : Symptoms

Lymphedema : Symptoms

What are the symptoms of Lymphedema?

Lymphedema usually manifests as severe swelling of an arm or leg. For patients who have developed lymphedema as a complication of cancer treatment, the swelling is almost always on the same side as the treatment. In some cases, lymphedema may involve both of the limbs, typically the legs. The swelling commonly extends from the arm or leg into the fingers or the toes. In the early stages of lymphedema, the swelling is soft, and pressing on the limb may result in movement of the fluid. This is called “pitting edema”. In the later stages of lymphedema, scar tissue and fibrous tissue may develop in the swollen limb causing a more dense texture of the swelling and a cobblestoned or orange-peel like appearance of the skin. Patients with lymphedema may experience heaviness of the effected arm or leg and have difficulty with exercise or participation in other activities. In the most severe cases of lymphedema, swelling may be disfiguring and may lead to embarrassment and emotional distress and even difficulty in wearing clothes or shoes. 

In addition to swelling, patients with lymphedema are at risk for developing certain types of skin infection in the swollen arm or leg known as cellulitis and lymphangitis. In mild to moderate infection, the skin will become warm, red, tender, and the patient may feel flu-like symptoms. Oral antibiotics and careful skin care should be started as soon as symptoms develop. In severe cases, high fevers and even shock may develop and require immediate hospitalization for intravenous antibiotics and close observation. Patients with severe, long-standing lymphedema are at increased risk for developing certain types of cancer, including certain skins cancers and lymphoma, although this is very rare. 

Lymphedema section was last modified: December 21, 2010 - 05:43 pm

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