Lymphedema Symptoms & Causes

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In-Depth

What causes lymphedema?

We don't know the causes of primary lymphedema. Sometimes, primary lymphedema is hereditary.

Secondary lymphedema occurs after injury to the lymphatic system usually due to one of the following causes:

  • infection
  • cancer or a cancer-related treatment
  • a surgical procedure

How common is lymphedema?

Primary lymphedema is rare; the incidence is about 1 in 100,000 children. About 90 percent of children with lymphedema have secondary lymphedema, which is much more common.

What are the symptoms of lymphedema?

Children with lymphedema have swelling of a limb or an extremity. The genitalia or other tissues also may be affected. Lymphedema may also lead to skin changes, pain, difficulty with daily activities and infection.

Can lymphedema be prevented?

Currently, there is no prevention for primary lymphedema. Avoiding secondary lymphedema is challenging; awareness of the condition and minimizing trauma to your child's underarm and groin can decrease the risk.

What conditions are associated with lymphedema?

Lymphedema is associated with recurrent infection, skin changes, functional disability and low self-esteem.

When should a child be referred to a specialist?

Specialized, interdisciplinary clinics provide current, comprehensive care for children.

Any child with a known or suspected diagnosis of lymphedema should be referred to a specialist.

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