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What are the symptoms of lymphedema?
The swelling of lymphedema usually occurs in one or both arms or legs,
depending upon the extent and localization of damage. Primary lymphedema can
occur on one or both sides of the body as well. Lymphedema may be only mildly
apparent or debilitating and severe, as in the case of lymphatic filariasis (see
above), in which an extremity may swell to several times its normal size. It may
first be noticed by the affected individual as an asymmetry between both arms or
legs or difficulty fitting into clothing or jewelry. If the swelling becomes pronounced,
fatigue due to added weight may occur, along with embarrassment and restriction
of daily activities.
The long-term accumulation of fluid and proteins in the tissues leads to
inflammation and eventual scarring of tissues, leading to a firm, taut swelling
that does not retain its displacement when indented with a fingertip (nonpitting edema). The skin in the affected area thickens and may take on a lumpy
appearance described as an orange-peel (peau d'orange) effect. The overlying
skin can also become scaly and cracked, and secondary bacterial or fungal
infections of the skin may develop. Affected areas may feel tender and sore, and
loss of mobility or flexibility can occur.
Other symptoms can accompany the swelling of lymphedema including:
Warmth, redness, or itching
Tingling or burning pains
Fever and chills
Decreased flexibility in the
Aching, pain, and fullness of the
The immune system function is also suppressed in the scarred and swollen
areas affected by lymphedema, leading to frequent infections and even a
malignant tumor of lymph vessels known as lymphangiosarcoma.