Lymphedema - Diagnosis

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How is lymphedema diagnosed?

A thorough medical history and physical examination are preformed to rule out other causes of limb swelling, such as edema due to congestive heart failure, kidney failure, blood clots, or other conditions. Often, the medical history of surgery or other conditions involving the lymph nodes will point to the cause and establish the diagnosis of lymphedema.

If the cause of swelling is not clear, other tests may be carried out to help determine the cause of limb swelling.

  • CT or MRI scans may be useful to help define lymph node architecture or to identify tumors or other abnormalities.
  • Lymphoscintigraphy is a test that involves injecting a tracer dye into lymph vessels and then observing the flow of fluid using imaging technologies. It can illustrate blockages in lymph flow.
  • Doppler ultrasound scans are sound wave tests used to evaluate blood flow, and can help identify a blood clot in the veins (deep venous thrombosis) that may be a cause of limb swelling.
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See what others are saying

Comment from: Iowagal, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: October 28

I spent 7 months asking my surgeon (total knee replacement) and family doctor what was wrong. I told them my leg felt so heavy and that the pain at times brought me to tears. The knee surgeon lifted his pant leg and poked his ankle and told me "Even I have swelling at the end of a long day and can poke myself with my finger and it makes a dent. It's just gravity." Okay, but why isn't it happening in both my legs and why does it feel like it's my whole leg? I had no answer. I suffered for 7 months needlessly until I did my own research and referred myself! I finally went to a vein doctor to check my "valves" in the leg to see if they were opening. They were fine, but she said just by looking that I had lymphedema. She explained there was no cure, but I could learn to manage it. She referred me to a "lymphedema clinic" in my hometown of 10,000 people. I met with the OT (occupational therapist) and she showed me two simple massage techniques that I do each morning and night. They take 30 seconds each. I have had so much relief from that simple massage technique!

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Comment from: jobert, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: January 14

Basically I self-diagnosed. Swelling first appeared soon after 8 weeks of radiation, preceded by hysterectomy for stage 3 endometrial (uterine) cancer. I had researched online and suspected it, asked the radiologist, and requested physical therapy for lymphedema, I continued one additional round of chemotherapy after that. I have been in and out of physical therapy for two years.

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