Lymphoedema is a chronic (long-term) condition that causes swelling in the body's tissues. It can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in the arms or legs.

Other symptoms of lymphoedema can include an aching, heavy feeling in affected body parts and difficulty moving them.

Lymphoedema is becoming more widely recognised within Northern Ireland with 4900 currently recorded on the minimum data set. It is estimated that there are more than 700 people within the Western Trust with lymphoedema. 

Lymphoedema can occur for a number of different reasons these can be classified into two groups:

1. Primary Lymphoedema
This is usually determined from birth due to the under development of the lymphatic system or absence of lymphatic tissues. It can present at birth or develop at any stage in life but particularly in adolescents or in mid-thirties. It is a lifelong condition that, with help, can be controlled.

2. Secondary Lymphoedema
Caused by trauma or damage to the lymphatic system. This lifelong risk of developing lymphoedema could be as a result of surgery or radiotherapy to treat cancer. It can occur as a result if infection, severe injury, burns or any other trauma which may affect the lymphatic system. Examples include:
• Skin infection (cellulitis)
• Chronic vascular conditions such as leg ulcers.

Learning to live with lymphedema can be challenging and people often require support from family, friends and health care professionals. Whether you have just been diagnosed with lymphoedema or have had it for some time it is important that you get the right support for managing the condition.

The lymphoedema service is responsible for educating patients on the condition and how best to manage their condition. Treatment options are varied and can include massage, compression bandaging, fitting of compression garments, skin care, exercises and advice on maintaining a healthy diet.

Having lymphoedema can make you vulnerable to infection. Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin that can affect lymphoedema sufferers. Recurrent cellulitis can lead to the development of lymphoedema in some people.
Symptoms of cellulitis include: redness of the skin, flu like symptoms, high temperature (fever), the affected area being more swollen than normal and chills. Antibiotics can be used to treat cellulitis and therefore seeking an immediate medical opinion is important. With good management of lymphoedema the number of cellulitis episodes can be reduced.

Lymphoedema Services are available at all three hospital sites in outpatient clinics. A referral can be made by any HCP or your GP through CCG.


Lymphoedema Support


Lymphoedema Network Northern Ireland

Lymphoedema Support Network