Differences Between Edema And Lymphedema

In this day and age, everyone is more concerned with their health. They want to understand what their doctor is telling them and want to be informed enough to make good decisions concerning their health care.

When we have swelling in an extremity, it is important to understand the difference in edema and lymphedema. They have very different causes and the treatments; while similar in some circumstances they are entirely different.
What is Lymphedema?Lymphedema Stage II
The lymphatic system is often called our body’s second circulatory system. It collects and filters the interstitial fluid of the body and dumps it into the lymph nodes. Lymphedema occurs when the lymphatic vessels, which collect the lymph (proteins, wastes, water and fats) from cells in your body and carries this to the lymph nodes, are interrupted. The lymph nodes filter out the waste materials and then return the lymph to your blood stream. The system does not work properly when the lymph nodes become damaged or are removed by surgeries. The fluids cannot be drained and build up in the body resulting in swelling in the arms, legs, or the involved body part. Chronic swelling can affect anyone – of any age – and at any point in that individual’s lifetime. This kind of swelling lasts over a period of time and is marked by frequent recurrences. Generally if you have lymphedema you can benefit by seeking the advice of a physical therapist and undergo manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). Your therapist may wrap you in special bandaging, fit you in compression stockings or arm sleeves and teach you special exercises. It is always best to first seek the advice of you physician.

  • Lymphedema is a response which happens when the lymphatic system is impaired (in an area) to the extent that it cannot handle the amount of fluid present.
  • Lymphedema is caused by excess protein-rich lymph which cannot be moved to a lymph node to dump in the circulatory system.
  • Lymphedema is a compromised tissue response to injury with slow healing and /or a infection.
  • Lymphedema is caused by damage to lymphatic system (accident or surgical intervention) or may be congenital. Swelling manifests itself near the damaged area.
  • In early stages a finger pressed into the affected area leaves a temporary indentation. This is pitting edema. In later stages the tissue bounces back with out any indentation.
  • Lymphedema is harmed, not helped by diuretics. Diuretics stimulate the kidneys to remove fluid from the body. In areas affected by lymphedema, tissue fluid is reduced which produces higher levels of protein. This can lead to swelling and hardening of the tissues.

What is edema?Inflammation of the veins with striped reddening and chronic venous insufficiency with swelling and skin discoloration
Edema is the swelling of arms and or legs resulting from the building up of excessive fluids in the tissue. The skin in the affected leg or arm will become stretched and appear shiny. Edema can be caused by prolonged sitting or standing without muscle movements; pregnancy which puts pressure on the vena cava (a major blood vessel that returns blood from the lower extremities back to the heart); an injury or sprain to the arms or legs. To test for edema you press your thumb over the swelled area with a slow pressure. If you see an indentation when you release pressure you should see a doctor to determine why the swelling is occurring. Edema is generally not a permanent issue and can be treated. If you have venous insufficiency resulting in mild edema you should keep your legs elevated and wear compression stockings. Exercise your legs even while sitting or traveling will generally keep your legs from swelling.

  • Edema is a response to an injury such as a sprain as the injury heals, the swelling subsides.
  • Edema is caused by excess tissue fluid which cannot be transported to the circulatory system.
  • Edema can be due to an injury, this will cause excess tissue fluid in an area to aid with the healing process.
  • Edema can be caused by circulatory problems, such as chronic venous insufficiency. This usually occurs in the lower extremities.
  • Both pitting and non-pitting edemas (when a finger pressed into the edema leaves no mark or indentation) can be found.
  • Diuretics can relieve some edemas by stimulating the kidneys to increase the urine output.

Edema resulting from venous insufficiency and lymphedema should not be confused. Untreated venous insufficiency can progress to venous/lymphatic disorder which is treated as lymphedema. If you suffer from either of these diseases and are experiencing swelling in the arms or legs, please contact your Physician. They are always the best source for diagnosis and treatment. Hopefully, by taking care of yourself, the swelling can be controlled, the pain can be treated, and you can get back to your normal life style. If you wear support stockings or compression garments of any type, always remember they are not a quick fix and must be routinely worn to maintain control of the swelling. We have many styles that offer the compression you need and look good at the same time.

13 Responses

  1. Thank you SO MUCH for bothering to answre me – as per usual I can get no answers from anyone at all.

    Not a wonder I give up – and have been going thrugh this problem for over 12 yrs now is it

    • Look into Lipedema. I don’t know what your body type is, but it may just be genetic affecting the adipose tissue. Doctors rarely diagnose this.
      Good luck.

      • Fro those of you who are not familiar with Lipedema, Wikipeda describes it as” “…a chronic disorder of the adipose tissue generally affecting the legs, which causes the legs, and sometimes the arms, but not the feet, to accumulate fatty tissue.[1] It is distinguishable by five characteristics: 1) it can be inherited; 2) it occurs almost exclusively in women; 3) it can occur in women of all sizes, from the seriously underweight to the morbidly obese; 4) it involves the excess deposit and expansion of fat cells in an unusual and particular pattern – bilateral, symmetrical and usually from the waist to a distinct line just above the ankles; and 5) unlike the typical fat of obesity, lipedemic fat generally cannot be lost through diet and exercise. Though there is debate about surgery as an intervention, there are surgeons in Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K. achieving success with medical liposuction. A specialized form of liposuction, usually performed with tumescent local anesthesia, one of the nuances is to ensure integrity of the lymphatic system while removing lipedemic adipose tissue.”

  2. Also… The front of my legs always feel oochy tho not bruised – Ex said he thought i had shin splints from when i used to exercise alot (long story of the weight problem) even now – all these years later my shins still feel oochy for no reason.

    If this is edema etc – Its not pitting or anything. I wish it would just go away… Then again I expect all people would say that

  3. I don’t know what my problem is – My Dr has shown no interest. My lower legs in 2000 swelled up to 24 inches round. I found out later this was from sitting for long periods at computer on a too high kitchen chair pressing on rear of thighs. So I got a decent computer chair and with the massage from my ex the legs went down to 18 inches round. I was very overweight then also (almost 17st) Now – years later I am 9st. Yet my legs are STILL 18 inches round, while the rest of my body is small. Legs are no longer painful, but they are an abnormal size for someone who is a size 10 in all other aspects. I just want to be normal and after spending over a decade losing weight, it would be nice to feel normal. But no. I am still abnormal. Sometimes the legs are 18.5 but methinks it is normal to fluctuate through the day etc, and I dont measure often so the 18 thing is not a 100% definitive number. At 24inchjes the Dr said it was just fat, I knew it wasnt as my ex could massage an inch off my leg back then. Now – I am on a decent chair, I do not get that massive swelling any more. But – My legs are still an abnormal size as I said.

    One thing is – My Mother also has big legs, but only since she became very immobile from her arthritis, before that her legs were big to her but she could wear skirts etc without problems or looking like a freak like I would if i wore a skirt.

    I have problems finding trousers that are big enough on the lower leg, yet small enough round my waist etc.

    I nkow due to the lymphatic system you cant just cut bits off the lower leg like you could with a brachioplasty for the arms. – I guess I just wanna find the answer, but – Maybe there isnt one? When I am sat I do leg exercises to make sure the legs are moving and stuff (circling feet and pretend walking to make the calfs move etc) which doesn’t do anythign but I figure it is a good thing to do for me anyways.

    If you knew the answer I would be forever grateful to just get down to a 16 inch leg even – I wanna be able to wear some boots – hee hee – and some nice jeans or something. After losing in my lifetime well over 9 stones, I just wanna feel good about myself 🙂


  4. I have compression stocking for a blood clot in my upper leg. Can I miss a day of not wearing these stockings for reason of seeing a foot Dr who injects me for a kys under my heal.

    • I am wearing compression stockings for a blood clot in my upper leg. Can I miss a day not wearing them for reason ex: seeing a foot Dr. For injections in my foot because of a cyst in my heal?

      • Hi Louise,
        I would say you should put on you stockings as soon as you have finished your appointment with your foot doctor, but this is a question you should ask the doctor who is taking care care of your blood clot.

    • Thanks for asking. When you are wearing compression stockings, you should do as your physician instructed. After your heal is injected, you should put your stockings back on.

  5. I wish there was somewher i could email questions about Lymphedema

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