Lymphoedema is a long term condition that affects over 240,000 in the UK
“Lipoedema affects 11% of the UK population”
“For every £1 spent on Lymphoedema the NHS saves £100 in reduced Hospital admissions (NCAT 2013)”
Types of Conditions
This section describes useful and important information about the symptoms and conditions related to Lymphodema and other related ailments. Click on the + icon to open and close each section.
The Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is part of our immune system and consists of organs, ducts, and nodes. It transports a watery clear fluid called lymph. It also interacts with the blood circulatory system it is the body’s drainage system, draining fluid from cells and tissues. Lymph fluid passes through lymph nodes which are connected by a network of lymph vessels. The nodes are found throughout the body. They filter and break down bacteria and other harmful cells from the lymph fluid. The lymph nodes contain white blood cells (lymphocytes), which attack and break down bacteria, viruses, damaged cells or cancer cells. Waste products and the destroyed bacteria are then carried in the lymph fluid back into the bloodstream and are removed from the body with other body waste. When we have an infection, lymph nodes often swell and become tender and sore to touch as they fight infection.
What is Lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a chronic, debilitating long term condition with prevalence affecting over 240,000 people in the UK. It presents as a swelling of any part of the body due to lymph fluid accumulating in the tissues because of a defective lymphatic system. The cause can be primary where there is a defect present from birth although it may not present itself until later in life, or secondary, caused by damage to the lymphatics through cancer, cancer treatments, surgery, trauma or infection. Worldwide the main cause of secondary lymphoedema is Filariasis. This is caused by a parasite entering and blocking the lymphatic system. These parasites do not live in Great Britain. Lymphoedema is a chronic long-term condition that is not curable at present but if appropriately treated can be well managed and is often preventable with correct advice and treatment. The sooner you seek advice from your Lymphoedema Nurse Specialist regarding your swelling the better the outcome. What are the signs and symptoms?
- Swelling of any area of the body
- Heaviness and aching
- Dry skin and other skin changes
- Folds developing in the skin
- Leakage of fluid from skin
- Repeated skin infection
- Skin becoming firm and tight
- Limited range of movement.
- Difficulty with movement
- Physical and emotional issues
- Difficulty with fitting footwear or clothing due to swelling
LymphCare UK offers a comprehensive range of treatment for lymphoedema.
What is Lipoedema?
Lipoedema is a condition which makes you accumulate a specific type of fat, generally below the waist making your legs and buttocks out of proportion with your upper body.
It can also affect your arms. Lipoedema over the years has not always been recognised by the medical profession and can be confused with lymphoedema.
Many are told that their lipoedema is excess fat and it is their own fault. The actual cause is not known, but often there is a family history of the condition.
Lipoedema mainly affects women, and rarely men. It is estimated that 11% of the female population suffer from the condition.
Signs and symptoms of lipoedema may include:
- Excess weight on the legs or upper arms but does not include the feet or hands
- Loss of weight from the upper body but not lower.
- Small waist, but large hips and thighs
- Heaviness and discomfort of your legs
- Skin may be pale and feel cold
- Pain in joints, especially the knees
- Tenderness and sensitivity in the tissues
- Finding clothes to fit properly may be difficult due to the difference in upper and lower body size.
- Visible broken veins or varicose veins in your legs
- There is often a pad of fat just under the knees and or around the hips
- Tissues which bruise easily for no apparent reason
- Family members may have had a similar problem with lipoedema.
Most treatments recommended help to manage lymphoedema may also be helpful to manage lipoedema.
More recently specific methods of liposuction, in some, may prove beneficial in reducing the size of limbs.
The sooner you seek advice from your Lymphoedema Nurse Specialist regarding your swelling, the better the outcome.
What is Chronic Oedema?
Chronic oedema is an overall term used to describe swelling which has been present for more than 3 months in the limbs or other parts of the body.
Chronic oedema often develops as a result of venous disease, lymphatic disease, ulceration, and trauma and after arterial or orthopaedic surgery.
Oedema in the legs can develop for other reasons such as systemic problems like heart failure or kidney failure. For further information see NHS Choices.
What is Dependent Oedema?
This is usually due to immobility and will cause swelling in the legs due to lack of calf muscle pump, which will normally help with venous and lymphatic drainage and circulation in the legs.
People with dependency oedema may spend much of the day sitting and may even sleep in the chair at night, which can make their oedema worse.
The sooner you seek advice from your Lymphoedema Nurse Specialist regarding your swelling the better the outcome will be.
What is Cellulitis?
It is important to recognise the signs of cellulitis and to ensure that you get prompt and appropriate care. Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and deeper tissues.
It is caused by the group A β-haemolytic streptococci although other bacteria may also be a cause. Any opening to the surface of the skin can be a root cause for the infection and that is why it is important to look after your skin.
Avoid scratches, stings and cuts and any injections or needles in the affected area.
Other factors which may lead to an episode of cellulitis include an in-growing toenail, poor nail care, eczema, psoriasis and fungal infections
Signs and Symptoms?
- flu like symptoms, sweating, aching, high temperature, headache and vomiting.
- Symptoms can be subtle at first, possibly starting with an ache or a rash in the affected area or limb. If you think that you do have an infection in the skin and any these signs of an infection, it is important that you seek medical advice as soon as possible to avoid complications.
What is the treatment for Cellulitis?
- A course of oral antibiotics will be prescribed by your doctor. The British Lymphology Society (BLS) has developed guidelines for health professionals to use, and these guidelines will inform the antibiotic best suited to you. Antibiotics are usually prescribed for 14 days, although your doctor may follow local antibiotic guidelines.
- Sometimes it may be necessary for you to be prescribed a different, or second course of antibiotic if your symptoms are not improving and in some cases intravenous antibiotic therapy may be required.
- Please let your
- Antibacterial cream applied to any cuts or scratches may be helpful and in some cases the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic cream or antihistamine.
If the bacteria infecting your skin and tissue enter your bloodstream, it can lead to blood poisoning (septicaemia). Symptoms of blood poisoning include:
- high temperature (fever) of 38oC (100.4oF) or above
- feeling giddy or faint
- rapid pulse or heartbeat
- rapid breathing
- changes in mental behaviour, such as confusion or disorientation
- reduced urine flow
- pale, cold, clammy skin
- loss of consciousness
If you have any of these symptoms you will need urgent medical assistance.
Unfortunately sometimes after an episode of cellulitis your swelling may be worse as the infection can further damage the lymphatic system.
If you have had two or more infections in the past 12 months then it is important that you let your GP and Lymphoedema Nurse Specialist know as you may need to take a prophylactic antibiotic. A prophylactic antibiotic is a low dose antibiotic which you will need to take every day. Your GP and Lymphoedema Nurse Specialist will be able to advise you on this.
How do I minimise the risks of Cellulitis?
It is vital that you look after your skin, keeping it clean and well hydrated.
Minimise the risk of injury, by wearing gloves when washing up dishes, oven gloves when removing hot items from the cooker, and garden gloves for working in the garden etc.
Applying an insect repellent in the summer months or while abroad can reduce the chances of being bitten, but try a small sample of the cream on an area that is not swollen. Our
Skincare section in Treatments will give you further guidance on minimising risks.
There are many organisations that can help with Lymphodema and related ailments.
Lymphoedema Support Network
British Lymphology Society
NHS Information on Lipoedema
Lipoedema UK and the Royal College of General Practitioners have some excellent free online training to improve GPs and Health Care professional’s recognition and diagnosis.