Symptoms 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 doctor soon after they appear.

Signs may begin gradually in the affected area, and they may come and go. If there is any doubt that the symptoms are an early sign of lymphoedema, ask your general practitioner (GP) to refer you to a lymphoedema practitioner for assessment.

You may have one or more of the following signs:

  • tightness, heaviness or fullness
  • aching or tingling feeling
  • visible swelling
  • not being able to fully move the affected limb
  • pitting of the skin (when an indentation or mark remains in the skin after pressure is applied).

 – Suzanne

Identifying and managing infections

  • Lymph fluid removes bacteria from tissues – if it can’t drain properly, the stagnant, protein-rich fluid can become infected more easily.
  • People with lymphoedema have a higher risk of getting a serious infection such as cellulitis in the affected area. Signs of cellulitis include redness, painful swelling, warm skin and fever. If you think you have an infection see your doctor immediately, as antibiotics may be necessary. Symptoms are better managed if treated early.
  • Having one episode of cellulitis increases the risk of further infections. Talk to your doctor about an “in case” prescription for antibiotics, particularly if you are going away on holiday, so you can start antibiotics when you first notice the symptoms.
  • If you have cellulitis several times during the year, you may benefit from taking antibiotics for an extended period.

This information was last reviewed in June 2017
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