Lymphoedema is swelling caused by a build-up of a fluid called lymph in the body tissues. It usually affects an arm or leg, but can affect other parts of the body. It can be present from birth (primary lymphoedema) or it can happen if lymph nodes (sometimes called glands) have been removed by surgery or damaged by radiotherapy, or if a cancer is blocking them. Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system that helps us fight infections and other illnesses. If lymphoedema is diagnosed, you’re likely to be referred to a specialist for a full assessment.
Lymphoedema specialists are usually based in hospitals, hospices or specialist lymphoedema centres. They can offer advice on self-care and treatments, including:
- Skincare to prevent injury and infection
- Positioning the limb and movement to help drain fluid
- Compressing the limb or area using compression garments such as sleeves, stockings, special bras or compression bandages
- Exercises and keeping active to improve the flow of lymph
- Self-massage or specialised massage called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) to help move fluid that’s built up.