Lymphoedema is chronic swelling caused by a build-up of fluid in the body tissue, usually in the arms and legs.

Enquiries & Appointments

Leg physio


When the body’s lymphatic system doesn’t work properly it can cause a build-up of fluid in the body tissue, rather than draining it away. It’s most common in the arms and legs, and causes chronic (ongoing) swelling. There are two types of lymphoedema – primary lymphoedema and secondary lymphoedema.

Need to know 

The lymphatic system transports fluid from body tissues into the blood circulation. If this doesn't work properly it can cause fluids to build-up.

Primary lymphoedema is linked to genes and means the lymphatic system hasn't developed properly.

Secondary lymphoedema is caused by damage to your lymphatic system due to:

  • infection, injury
  • cancer
  • inflamed limbs
  • venous diseases such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or varicose veins

The main symptom of lymphoedema is swelling in your arms and legs. It may also cause:

  • achy, heavy feelings
  • hard, tight skin
  • skin infections or growths like warts
  • difficulty moving freely
  • leaking fluid through the skin

It’s usually possible to diagnose lymphoedema by examining the affected part of the body to see the extent of the swelling and assess other symptoms. Your consultant will also take your medical history into account.

Some other tests may be used, including:

  • bioimpedance test - using electrodes to pick up any fluid in your body tissue
  • imaging tests - such as an MRI scan, ultrasound, CT scan, X-ray or lymphoscintigram
  • Measuring the volume of the limb with tape measures, water displacement tests or infrared lights (perometry)

Lymphoedema is a chronic, lifelong condition. While there is no treatment to cure it, there are ways to manage it.

Treatment for Lymphoedema is called Decongestive Lymphatic Therapy (DLT) and consists of:

  • skin care – daily cleaning and moisturising to reduce infection
  • exercise – helping to keep your weight within normal limits, which is one of the most effective ways to reduce swelling
  • compression bandages and garments – helping to move fluid out of the affected area
  • manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) - a type of physiotherapy that uses light, rhythmic massage techniques to move excess fluid (lymph) towards healthy lymph nodes

Our Lymphoedema locations

Institute of Sport Exercise and Health (ISEH)

Institute of Sport Exercise and Health (ISEH)

170 Tottenham Court Road W1T 7HA London
The Harley Street Clinic

The Harley Street Clinic

35 Weymouth Street W1G 8BJ London
The Portland Hospital

The Portland Hospital

205-209 Great Portland Street W1W 5AH London
The Princess Grace Hospital

The Princess Grace Hospital

42-52 Nottingham Place W1U 5NY London
The Lister Hospital

The Lister Hospital

Chelsea Bridge Road, SW1W 8RH London
The Shard Outpatients

The Shard Outpatients

The Shard, 32 St Thomas Street SE1 9BS London

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.