two people sitting with lymphedema wearing compression garments

What causes lymphedema?

Our lymphatic system is a vital contributor to our circulatory system that plays a decisive role in our immune system.  Our lymphatic system collects excessive fluid in our body, filters the cellular waste, and transports this protein-rich fluid back to our bloodstream. When healthy, our lymphatic system runs smoothly. We only become aware of the lymphatic system when it is impaired – in the case of lymphedema, for example.


Lymphedema occurs when the lymphatic system does not function properly causing chronic swelling of the affected body including arms, legs, trunk, head, neck, and genitalia. Lymph vessels become compromised prohibiting the lymph fluid from processing causing accumulation in the affected area. When left untreated, it can progress to debilitating levels.

Lymphedema is classified as either primary or secondary.  Primary lymphedema is caused by an abnormality at birth and is a hereditary condition. Primary lymphedema can be difficult to detect at an early age.  It can be identified through a self-diagnosis test to determine if there is “pitting edema” or a Stemmer’s Sign.  Always consult a doctor or healthcare professional before undergoing treatment.

How to identify lymphedema:

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Secondary lymphedema is typically caused when the lymphatic vessels are damaged through a secondary interaction or activity.  This includes:

How is lymphedema treated?

Lymphedema is a chronic disease and requires life-long treatment.  Patients who complete successful decongestion treatment (Complex physical decongestive therapy -CPD) and subscribe to a consistent maintenance schedule live quality lives.

Lymphedema treatment focuses on four key components:

  • Skincare & hygiene
  • Lymphatic drainage
  • Compression therapy
  • Physical activity

An individualized treatment plan should be coordinated by a Certified Lymphedema Therapist or CLT for best long-term results.

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