Leg lymphoedema - patient information leaflet

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You have been given this leaflet because you have symptoms of lymphoedema.

What is lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is a type of swelling. It develops when fluid does not drain easily from areas of the body through the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system normally helps to ensure a healthy balance of fluid in the body. It also deals with infections. There are many different causes of leg lymphoedema.

How does lymphoedema affect people?

Swelling may be mild, and vary throughout the day. In some people, lymphoedema becomes more of a problem. It can affect the whole leg, causing changes in the skin, heaviness in the limb and an increased risk of infection (cellulitis).

What can be done to improve lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema can be a distressing problem, but with the correct advice and treatment, it can be well controlled. Treatments for leg lymphoedema may include use of bandaging and compression garments, to reduce the swelling. Your doctor may refer you for assessment and treatment with a lymphoedema practitioner.

What can I do to manage my lymphoedema?

You can take an active role by following these lymphoedema self-management tips:

Skin care:

  • Wash and moisturise your skin daily to keep your skin healthy and supple
  • Protect your skin from damage (scratches, stings, bites, sunburn) that may lead to more swelling
  • Avoid walking barefoot and take good care of your nails
  • Use antiseptic cream or spray on any breaks in your skin on the swollen areas
  • Treat any fungal infections (athlete’s foot) and use cream/powder to prevent it returning
  • If you are unwell, and your leg is red, sore, or more swollen, see your doctor or call NHS 24 immediately as you may have cellulitis

Movement and exercise:

  • Wear good fitting, comfortable shoes that help you walk as normally as possible
  • Avoid standing or sitting for long periods
  • Wear compression garments during the day and while exercising; take them back for more advice if they do not fit.

There may be a lymphoedema group or lymphoedema professional in your area. Ask for more information through your GP surgery or hospital team.

Editorial Information

Last reviewed: 30 April 2019

Next review: 30 April 2021

Author(s): Highland Lymphoedema Service

Approved By: high-uhb.tam@nhs.net

Reviewer Name(s): Advanced Lymphoedema Nurse

Document Id: TAM231