Lymphedema - Symptoms

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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. 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.

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.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: barbara, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: November 14

I have had lymphedema for the past 5 years or more. It started out slow then went to draining really badly. I had them wrapped a few times and now they have stopped but at night I have bad itching and can't sleep due to that. Just at night they get like that and I have the stockings to wear and I'm trying to get used to them because I don't like to go out and have people look at me like I'm weird with my legs this way. I really wish it would go away but I guess not. Mine started after I had knee surgery in 2003.

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Comment from: Gwen, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: December 17

For over 11 years I have suffered from extensive leg swelling from the shin area to my ankles. It's usually associated with a temperature on the affected area, a gland usually develops in between my thighs, and the entire leg especially near the ankles are discolored. The entire leg from my shin to ankles aren't only swollen but painful at times also. I was hospitalized for developing ague along with high fever locally. I've been tested and cleared for kidney related diseases, poor circulation. Local doctors are yet to aid in curing my condition and it's beyond frustrating to be enduring at this late time in my life.

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