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Warning Signs of Lymphedema

Stage I lymphedema -- before the swelling becomes extreme.

If you are at risk of developing lymphedema and if any of the following warning signs appear, you should promptly seek a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

  • Lymphedema is a chronic condition that cannot be cured; however, the sooner treatment is started the more effective this treatment can be!
  • Swelling of the affected limb can develop gradually. In contrast, this swelling may appear suddenly as if the limb had ballooned in size.
    This sudden swelling often follows a gradual increase that has been ignored.
  • Infection within the area that is "at risk" for  lymphedema  Tissues affected by lymphedema are prone to infections and sometimes such an infection is the first sign of lymphedema. See Lymphedema Related Infections.
  • Pitting edema is another early sign of lymphedema. To test for this symptom, press a finger against the swollen tissue. If this pressure creates an indentation that gradually fills in, pitting edema is considered to be present.
  • An unexplained sensation of “pins and needles” in the at risk area. Swelling can cause pressure on nerves and this pressure creates these uncomfortable sensations.
  • A feeling of heaviness in the affected area. Before you notice gradually increasing swelling, you may notice that the limb feels heavier.
  • A sensation of tightness of the skin surrounding the affected tissues. Gradually increasing swelling, or sudden swelling, stretches the skin and make it feel tight.
  • Changes such as a ring or bracelet that are too tight or a shoe that is suddenly too small. These can be indications that the limb is increasing in size.
  • Aching in the adjacent shoulder or hip. The increasing weight of the swollen limb can cause the adjacent joint to ache.
  • Decreased mobility of a joint. As a limb increases in size, it may decrease the ability of the joint (elbow or knee) to move properly or reduce range of motion.


Cover art by Patty Rice

LIVING WELL WITH LYMPHEDEMA by A. Ehrlich MA, A. Harrewijn PT, CLT-LANA, and E. McMahon PhD. Lymph Notes 2005, page 19. Buy now from Amazon.com or click here for other ordering options.


To Learn more about the most recent standards of these practices, go to the NLN website (www.lymphnet.org.)


@ Lymphnotes.com, 2015. This information does not replace the opinion of a knowledgeable physician.

Got a question or comment? Post in the 'Are You at Risk for Lymphedema?' forum.
Category: Are You at Risk for Lymphedema? Updated: 2015-06-08


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