Lymphedema is the name of a type of swelling in soft body tissues.

It happens when lymph builds up in your body's soft tissues. 

Steps you may be advised to take to prevent lymphedema or to keep it from getting worse:

  • Protect your skin. Use lotion to avoid dry skin. Use sunscreen. Wear plastic gloves with cotton lining when working in order to prevent scratches, cuts, or burns. Keep your feet clean and dry. Keep your nails clean and short to prevent ingrown nails and infection. Avoid tight shoes and tight jewelry.
  • Exercise. Work to keep body fluids moving, especially in places where lymphedema has developed. Start with gentle exercises that help you to move and contract your muscles. Ask your doctor or nurse what exercises are best for you.
  • Manual lymph drainage. See a trained specialist (a certified lymphedema therapist) to receive a type of therapeutic massage called manual lymph drainage. Therapeutic massage works best to lower lymphedema when given early, before symptoms progress.

Lymphedena can occur when part of the lymph system is damaged or blocked, such as during surgery to remove lymph nodes, or radiation therapy. Cancers that block lymph vessels can also cause lymphedema.

At first, lymphedema in an arm or leg may cause symptoms such as:

  • Swelling and a heavy or achy feeling in your arms or legs that may spread to your fingers and toes
  • A dent when you press on the swollen area
  • Swelling that is soft to the touch and is usually not painful at first

Lymphedema that is not controlled may cause:

  • More swelling, weakness, and difficulty moving your arm or leg
  • Itchy, red, warm skin, and sometimes a rash
  • Wounds that don’t heal, and an increased risk of skin infections that may cause pain, redness, and swelling
  • Thickening or hardening of the skin
  • Tight feeling in the skin; pressing on the swollen area does not leave a dent
  • Hair loss

Lymphedema in the head or neck may cause:

  • Swelling and a tight uncomfortable feeling on your face, neck, or under your chin
  • Difficulty moving your head or neck


Your doctor or nurse may advise you to take these and other steps to treat lymphedema:

  • Wear compression garments or bandages. Wear special garments, such as sleeves, stockings, bras, compression shorts, gloves, bandages, and face or neck compression wear. Some garments are meant to be worn during the day, while others are to be worn at night.
  • Other practices. Your health care team may advise you to use compression devices (special pumps that apply pressure periodically) or have laser therapy or other treatments.