What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is swelling of a body part due to the accumulation of protein-rich fluid (lymph) in the tissues. The lymphatic system is part of our circulatory system and has important functions for our immune system. It also removes wastes and fluid from our tissues, so if it is not functioning properly, swelling can result.

Primary Lymphedema is caused by a malformation of the lymphatic system. In this case, swelling may appear after a simple accident which overloads the system. However, swelling may develop gradually, with no apparent cause, due to a continuous overload of the system.

Secondary Lymphedema is often caused by injury, scarring, or surgical removal of lymph nodes and radiation therapy treatments to lymph nodes. For instance, it is common among women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer. Women who have had surgery and radiation therapy are at even higher risk.