Lymphoedema Signs and Symptoms

Initially, the swelling may be very slight and possibly intermittent - and at this stage it is quite common to notice more problems as the day goes on. For example, the swelling may be minimal on waking but become larger as the day progresses - especially in warm weather. It is often easier to resolve the swelling at this stage so treatment should always be started as soon as possible.

If left untreated, the swelling over time becomes more permanent; it doesn’t subside overnight and the area will begin to feel increasingly hard and solid. This is due to the build-up of proteins as well as fluid in the tissues.

Lymphoedema can occur in any part of the body, most often in the arms and legs, but also the breast or chest wall, head and neck or genitals.

If you have been advised that you may be at risk of developing lymphoedema, you should monitor the area closely, note any changes and communicate these to your healthcare professional.

Signs and symptoms of lymphoedema include:

  • Swelling in the arm, leg or other body part
  • Abnormal tightness of clothing, wristwatches, rings or bracelets
  • Feeling of tension and inflammation
  • An indentation is left in the skin when pressed by your thumb which is known as “pitting oedema”
  • Swelling of more than three months duration
  • Swelling that comes and goes, may reduce overnight, but is generally worse by the end of the day
  • Feelings of discomfort, tightness, firmness, heaviness, stiffness, pain or aching in the affected body part or at risk body part
  • A skin infection that appears with a swelling known as cellulitis. Redness of the skin and tenderness to touch are some of the symptoms. If you believe you may be developing a skin infection, it is important to seek prompt medical advice. To learn more about the infections, please click here.

  • Change in sensations in the body part such as numbness, soreness, tingling or temperature changes
  • Decreased flexibility or difficulty in moving the legs, thighs, knees, toes, ankles, neck, shoulders, arms, elbows, wrist and fingers