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Lymphoedema

Lymphoedema

Definition

Lymphoedema is a chronic swelling resulting from failure of lymphatic drainage.

Given the common occurrence of this type of clinical picture, the term “chronic oedema” acts as an “umbrella” description of persistent oedema greater than 3 months duration, regardless of cause.

Two main types of lymphoedema are recognised:

  • Primary lymphoedema

This term describes lymphoedema where there is an abnormality of development of the lymphatics.

  • Secondary lymphoedema

This describes the situation where lymphatic failure is a result of damage to an otherwise normal lymphatic system, e.g. due to surgery, radiotherapy, infection (such as cellulitis) or trauma.

However, strictly speaking, there is a lymphatic component to all types of chronic oedema. Further information on lymphoedema and practical assessment of a patient is available from the attachments shown below. Additional training resources are available within the Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN) web services section of the website.