Lymphoedema is swelling that is caused by a build-up of fluid in the body’s tissues. It is most commonly seen in the arms or legs, but can affect any part of the body. One of the most common causes of lymphoedema in the UK is cancer and its treatments (secondary lymphoedema), but we also see primary lymphoedema and lipoedema, which is an abnormal build up of fat in legs and sometimes arms.

Lymphoedema symptoms

The swelling can cause discomfort, tightness, loss of function and mobility in the affected area, as well as skin changes. There is also an increased risk of infection in the swollen tissues.

As well as affecting how you feel about yourself, if left untreated the swelling is likely to get worse and the tissues in the limb may harden and become more challenging to manage.

Lymphoedema treatments

Lymphoedema is a long-term condition, which cannot be cured. But with the right support, it can be managed. Our Lymphoedema Team will work with you and your condition, providing comprehensive advice and support, specific to you.

The following advice and treatment is commonly given to help ease the symptoms of lymphoedema.

Skin care: keeping the area clean and well moisturised reduces the risk of infection by helping to prevent the development of dry, cracked or broken skin.

Gentle exercise is important to increase or maintain flexibility and the full range of joint movement and to promote muscle pump action, which encourages the movement and drainage of the fluid.

Compression: sometimes we will suggest the use of specialist compression garments, such as stockings or sleeves or compression bandages. These items can help to reduce and manage the swelling. We measure the affected limbs or areas of your body and will provide a made-to-measure garment, if required. These items will be made available on prescription for your longer-term needs once we know what is working for you.

Lymphatic massage: this is a very light massage technique designed to improve tissue drainage and improve circulation throughout the body, reducing congestion in swollen areas. Simple Lymph Drainage (SLD) techniques can be taught to patients to enable them to continue with treatment themselves at home and therefore maximise the benefits to the full. Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) is a more thorough treatment given by an MLD therapist and will be suggested if the lymphoedema team feel you require this treatment. All of our lymphoedema team are fully qualified and experienced to teach and deliver these treatments.

The Lymphoedema Team

The Lymphoedema Team is based on two sites: Katharine House Hospice and the Churchill hospital in Oxford. Heidi Allen and Hannah Mozelewski are based at Katharine House Hospice.

How to refer

Referrals must be made by a healthcare professional through EPR, email [email protected] or by telephoning the lymphoedema administrator on 01865 225864.

Lymphoedema resources for patients

Tripudio Movement Systems: this 10-minute movement sequence is designed to help with lymphatic flow. The gentle movement can be done seated or standing, depending on your ability, and is not aerobic. We teach all of our patients the Tripudio Flow at your first appointment with us as part of your lymphoedema management.

Breast Cancer Now: an organisation offering information and support to those affected by breast cancer and the effects of treatment, including details about lymphoedema.

Exercises for arm swelling: a 9-minute video from The Breast Cancer Haven will get you started towards your daily exercise routine. Although aimed at people affected by breast cancer, it is a great exercise for any upper body swelling.

Lipoedema UK: an online resource for people living with lipoedema, giving information and advice.

Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN): LSN is a registered charity and the UK's national patient support organisation for lymphoedema.

LymphConnect is a community that offers support and encouragement to others who have lymphoedema. Helping people to navigate through the condition and learn effective ways to help integrate into daily life. 

NHS: information about lymphoedema covering the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Skincare advice: the LSN have produced a short YouTube video to advise on skincare.

Lymphoedema resources for healthcare professionals

Ankle Brachial Pressure Index (ABPI) in lymphoedema: the British Lymphology Society’s (BLS) Position Paper For Ankle Brachial Pressure Index (ABPI) – Informing decision making prior to the application of compression therapy.

Wet Leg Pathway (Lymphorrhoea): tool for community nurses to enable effective prudent management of those affected by lymphoedema and, in particular, with wet legs.

Katharine House Hospice