Definition

Lymphedema refers to swelling that generally occurs in one of your arms or legs. Sometimes both arms or both legs swell.

Lymphedema is most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to your lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment. It results from a blockage in your lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining well, and the fluid buildup leads to swelling.

There's no cure for lymphedema. But it can be managed with early diagnosis and diligent care of your affected limb.

Symptoms

Lymphedema signs and symptoms, which occur in your affected arm or leg, include:

  • Swelling of part or all of your arm or leg, including fingers or toes
  • A feeling of heaviness or tightness
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Aching or discomfort
  • Recurring infections
  • Hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis)

The swelling caused by lymphedema ranges from mild, hardly noticeable changes in the size of your arm or leg to extreme changes that make the limb hard to use. Lymphedema caused by cancer treatment may not occur until months or years after treatment.