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Swelling of the limbs with oedema of the interstitial space usually due to disruption of the lymphatic drainage. Usually distinguished from dependent oedema or causes of generalised oedema due to reduced oncotic pressure, although both these factors can contribute to or exacerbate lymphoedema.




Divided into age of onset:


  • Extrinsic compression, e.g. tumour masses
  • Iatrogenic, e.g. radiotherpay, groin or axillary dissections.
  • Parasitic infections, e.g. filariasis (most common cause worldwide)

Lymphoedema after breast cancer

  • More likely following axillary clearance, especially level 3.
  • May be reduced by a more selective approach using sentinal node biopsy.

Venepuncture, cannulation, use of tourniquets and blood pressure cuffs should be avoided, where possible, in patients with previous axillary surgery there is assumed to be an increased susceptibility to infection due to poor lymphatic drainage. Increased pressure in the arm is may impair new channels formed with the subdermal[1] or intradermal spaces.[2][3]