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Wirral University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

What is lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is a long term (chronic) condition that manifests itself as swelling which has been present for more than 3 months.  It can affect any body part, but is mostly seen in arms and legs.  It can be due to:

  • Primary lymphoedema which is a failure in the lymphatic system which often is present at birth, or may appear later in life.


  • Secondary lymphoedema, which occurs when there has been damage to the lymphatic system, due to trauma, infection, post Deep Vein Thrombosis, or cancer and cancer treatments.  Immobility, cardiac failure, or venous insufficiency can also cause oedema, as can certain medications. Obesity appears to increase the risk of lymphoedema.  In this case, as there is often no abnormality to the lymphatics, weight loss and healthy eating is likely to lead to a reduction in swelling.  Bariatric surgery may also be recommended.