Stages of Lymphoedema

Stages of Lymphoedema

Types of Lymphoedema:

There are two types of lymphoedema; primary & secondary.


Primary Lymphoedema is usually determined from birth and arises due to a possible underdevelopment of some part of the lymphatic system. It may develop without any obvious cause at any stage in life, but more commonly in adolescence.


Secondary Lymphoedema is the result of outside causes when the lymphatic system has become impaired / damaged i.e. something that happens to the body/lymphatic system in order for its break down. Examples are:

How Does Lymphoedema Progress?

Secondary lymphoedema can take anything from 3 weeks - 20 years from the initial trauma/event to appear. It is recommended to start preventative Lymph Drainage as soon as possible after the initial trauma or event in order to establish lymph re-routes and for lymph to start flowing again. This may delay and possibly prevent the onset of lymphoedema. However if lymphoedema does occur it is unfortunately irreversible and as such there is currently no known cure. Appropriate treatment can be implemented to reduce the swelling and keep it to a minimum and improve quality of life dramatically.


What Treatment is Available?

It is vital that lymphoedema is correctly diagnosed by a fully qualified & certified Lymphoedema therapist (Földi, Vodder, Leduc, Casey Smith trained) will give a full assessment to ascertain the actual cause and stage of the swelling in order to determine which treatment is right for you. There are 4 stages of lymphoedema:

Stage 0: Sub clinical stage (latent stage) : lymphoedema is not revealed clinically and may not yet be noticeable.

Stage 1 : Reversible Lymphoedema: accumulation of protein-rich fluid.

(The lymphatic system is overstrained and a protein-rich swelling develops. The skin is soft to touch and it leaves an indent when pressure is applied (pitting oedema). The swelling can temporarily be reduced by elevation of the limb; however, the swellign soon returns. )

Stage 2: Spontaneously Irreversible Lymphoedema: Protein-rich oedema fluid. Connective and scar tissue

(The accumulated fluid does not reduce on elevation. The tissue feels firm, even hard, and it is no longer possible to produce indentations (non-pitting oedema) when pressure is applied. The tissue changes at this stage increase the risks of additional swelling, fibrosis or hardening of the tissues plus more infections and skin problems.)

Stage 3: Lymphostatic Elephantiasis: Protein-rich oedema. Connective and scar tissue. Hardening of skin. Papillomas.

(The extreme swelling and tissue fibrosis cause the skin to thicken/harden shwoing wart like growths and loss of normal elasticity. These changes can create folds of tissue that limit mobility and are disfiguring. There is a high risk of infection within the folds and the skin is vulnerable to the development of deep open wounds which are difficult to heal.)