What is Lymphoedema?

Who develops it and why?

Lymphoedema is a chronic, progressive swelling of the tissues with protein-rich fluid, when the normal lymphatic flow may be impaired. This may be as a possible consequence of any trauma, infection, radiation or surgery that disrupts the lymphatic channels or results in the loss of lymph nodes. . It most commonly affects the arms or legs, but can also occur in the chest wall, abdomen, neck , face and genitals ,is known as acquired or secondary lymphoedema and typically presents with painless unilateral limb swelling

The earlier lymphoedema is diagnosed the more can be done to slow or even prevent its progression.

Primary lymphoedema will present with swelling when there is a congenital malfunction or defect or deficiency of the lymph transporting system vessels or nodes during foetal development. This may be evident from birth or may indeed present in the teen years or even later, and is usually triggered by physical trauma or infection.

Chronic oedema

Chronic oedema is a progressive and debilitating long-term condition that requires effective management. It can have a detrimental and profound effect on people’s quality of life, health and their ability to engage in normal daily activities, as swelling impedes movement and is painful (Moffatt et al, 2017). In every case of chronic oedema there will be some impairment of lymphatic drainage as a result of the capacity of the lymphatics being overloaded.

Risk Factors

For those at risk of lymphoedema ( i.e. having had previous surgery with lymph node removal or lymph node irradiation), any further physical insult to the lymphatic pathways can raise the risk of lymphedema. These may include: inactivity, overweight/obesity, infection, stress, inflammation/ infection, extremes of heat, sunburn repeated blood draws on the affected limb, over activity /repetitive strain of the limb.

The research is being currently being revised regarding venepuncture (taking blood) and other risk factors however we suggest using common sense in situations that present a challenge; if you can use the unaffected limb , do so. |*Please see NLFI Risk Reduction Document.

Lowering risk

Maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle, impeccable skin and nailcare, wearing suitable professionally measured compression when indicated

Prevalence Worldwide

WHO estimates 250 million people suffer with lymphoedema world wide

Prevalence Ireland

An estimated 13,000 to 15,000 patients in Ireland are affected by secondary lymphoedema.

An estimated 1,300 patients in Ireland with primary lymphoedema.