Lymphoedema is a chronic condition that causes swelling in the body's tissue.
Lymphoedema is defined as the excessive accumulation of tissue fluid (or ‘lymph’) that results from impaired lymphatic drainage and the term ‘lymphoedema’ should be confined to describing oedema in patients in whom a lymphatic abnormality has been confirmed.
Lymphoedema can affect anyone at any age and can affect any part of the body. Although it is not life-threatening it can be very distressing and can become a major physical and social problem.
There is no cure at present, but with appropriate treatment and the patients co-operation it can be kept under control.
Because the tissue fluid is not being cleared normally, any bacteria which get into the skin or subcutaneous tissues from a minor trauma or scratch are more likely to cause an infection. The infection which results is called cellulitis. It is unfortunate that with each episode of cellulitis lymphatic vessels are damaged further. Avoidance of infections is therefore important.
Very rarely after many years of lymphoedema, a malignant tumour of the lymph vessels can occur.