Early signs of lymphoedema
Because lymphoedema is easier to manage and treat in its early stages, it is important to look out for any signs that you are developing lymphoedema and to see your lymphoedema practitioner or doctor soon after they appear.
If you are at risk of developing lymphoedema, see a lymphoedema practitioner for regular check-ups rather than waiting for signs to appear. Taking action at an early stage can help reduce the risk of developing lymphoedema and the severity of lymphoedema if it does develop.
You may have one or more of the following symptoms and/or signs in the affected area:
- feeling of tightness, heaviness or fullness
- aching in the affected area
- swelling that comes and goes or is more noticeable at the end of the day
- clothing, shoes or jewellery feeling tighter than usual
- not being able to fully move the affected limb
- pitting of the skin (when gentle pressure leaves an indent on the skin).
If you are unsure whether any symptoms are an early sign of lymphoedema, contact a lymphoedema practitioner. You can ask your general practitioner (GP) or specialist to refer you to a lymphoedema practitioner for assessment or see How to find a lymphoedema practitioner.
If left untreated, lymphoedema can progress and cause a range of problems, including:
- trouble moving around and doing your usual activities
- discomfort and sometimes pain
- difficulty fitting into clothes or shoes
- an increased risk of infections and of small infections becoming more serious
- further hardening of the skin and other structures (fibrotic changes)
- lymph fluid leaking from the skin (this is known as lymphorrhea)
- very rarely, the development of lymphangiosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer.
Anya Traill, Head, Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dawn Bedwell, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council QLD; Gillian Buckley, Senior Physiotherapist – Lymphoedema, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Asha Heydon-White, Senior Physiotherapist and Lymphoedema Therapist, MQ Health Lymphoedema Clinic, ALERT – Australian Lymphoedema Education Research and Treatment, Macquarie University, NSW; Prof Sharon Kilbreath, Deputy Dean, Academic, Discipline of Physiotherapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, NSW; Pamela Lamont, Consumer; Prof Neil Piller, Vice Chair, International Lymphoedema Framework, Director, Lymphoedema Clinical Research Unit, Patron, Lymphoedema Support Group SA; Hildegard Reul-Hirche, Physiotherapist, QLD.
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