Symptoms and diagnosis

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The early signs of lymphoedema

The main symptom of lymphoedema is swelling in all or part of a limb or another part of the body. The early signs of lymphoedema include:

  • Swelling in part of your body. At first this may come and go and it will often be worse at the end of the day, then go down overnight.
  • A feeling of heaviness, tightness, soreness or stiffness in the affected area.
  • Skin changes over time. For example, your skin may feel tight, shiny and taut.
  • Clothing or jewellery feeling tighter than usual.

Different types of lymphoedema

(Image credits from left: Winship Cancer Institute / Oxford Lymphoedema Practice / One Pine Hill / The Cancer Help Blog)


Talk to your GP about your symptoms as soon as possible. In many cases, it’s possible for your GP to make a diagnosis of lymphoedema by:

  • Discussing your symptoms and medical history
  • Examining the affected body part and measuring the distance around it to see if it’s enlarged

Although it’s not always necessary, sometimes further tests are used to assess and monitor your condition. These tests include:

  • Measuring limb volume: manually using a tape measure, using a water displacement tank or using infrared light (Perometry)
  • Bioimpedance testing where electrodes are used to indicate the presence of fluid in your tissue
  • Imaging tests and scans (MRI, CT, Ultrasound or Lymphoscintigraphy)

Manual limb measurement
(Image credits: Riverina Hand Therapy / Lymphoedema Scotland)

Your Stories

Read other people’s stories of diagnosis and life with lymphoedema on our blog. If you would like to share your own story, please get in touch!