What Is Lymphedema?

The production of increased lymphatic fluid is normal after any surgery or injury
(such as a wrist fracture or sprained ankle). This is part of the body’s natural healing process and to be expected. It only becomes an issue when normal flow of this fluid becomes limited due to changes in the tissues on the surgical side. This build-up of fluid is called lymphedema.

Women who have been treated for breast cancer may be at risk for lymphedema. It can develop shortly after breast surgery, or months to years later in some women. It is important to know that not everyone will develop lymphedema. There are steps you can take to minimize your risk for its development.  Should you develop lymphedema, there is specialized therapy that treats and deals with the ongoing management of the symptoms.

Lymphedema signs and symptoms

Lymphedema can occur months or even years after your surgery. It’s important to notify your doctor if you develop any of these symptoms: 

  • Swelling or puffiness in your hand or arm on the side of your surgery
  • Swelling in the breast, trunk or armpit
  • Tightness or impression (dents) left on your arm when clothing sleeves, rings or wristwatch are removed
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Difficulty moving or stretching your arm
  • Signs of infection including warmth, redness, pain, increased swelling

Updated January 14, 2022

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