Like other conditions, lymphedema has early signs too. Learning to recognize them early on can help in keeping the condition from progressing and can contribute to the outcome of the treatment plan. The earlier it is detected, the better is its prognosis.  

Are you at risk?

Lymphedema is a condition characterized by the build-up of lymphatic fluid in the fatty tissues. Although it can develop as a result of abnormalities in the lymphatic system, the condition is often a result of cancer treatments. 

If your cancer treatment involves the removal of lymph nodes and/or radiation therapy, then you are at high risk of developing lymphedema.

Sites Affected by Lymphedema

Lymphedema usually affects the arms and the legs but it can develop in other parts of the body. Some breast cancer treatments can lead to lymphedema occurring in the chest, underarm, breast, and the arm closest to the surgery. If lymphedema occurs as a result of cancer treatment in the abdominal or pelvic areas, the swelling may be apparent in the abdomen, genitals, or legs.  

Signs to Watch Out For

There is still no cure for lymphedema. However, the earlier it is detected, the better is the treatment outcome. Below are the lymphedema early signs to watch out for: 

  • Swelling of the affected site 

  • Feeling of tightness or heaviness 

  • Low-grade discomfort  

  • Unexplained sensation of "pins and needles"  

  • Sensation of heaviness or fatigue on the affected site 

The swelling that happens in lymphedema develops gradually. Hence, once you start noticing persistent swelling of a body part or once you start to notice difficulty in fitting into a clothing or watch, then it's best to see a lymphedema expert 

The early stages of lymphedema are reversible. At these stages, the lymphedema early signs can be managed through conservative measures such as elevation of the affected site and the use of compression garments. 

When left untreated, the swelling can progress and can cause serious complications like connective tissue fibrosis and permanent skin changes. 

Image: capt_tain Tom via Flickr

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