What is Lymphoedema/Chronic Oedema?

Lymphoedema is an abnormal swelling (present for more than 3 months) of part/s of the body caused by a collection of lymphatic fluid (including water and proteins) in the tissues just below the skin. It occurs when there is a dysfunction in the lymphatic system.  Sometimes you are born with the dysfunction, but it might only start showing symptoms much later in life.  The swelling can be very mild to severe.

If you had surgery or radiation to an area where you have lymph nodes, for example the groin, axilla or neck, you are at risk of developing Lymphoedema.  Prompt treatment is ideal to reduce your chances of developing lymphoedema.

To see if you have high protein oedema, you can push down onto the swollen area, and if the indentation stays there where you pushed down, its due to a higher concentration protein in the tissue. We call this pitting oedema, and this should ideally be treated due to the high risk of infection.

Water tablets should not be taken for this type oedema due to the high protein content.  The protein will harden (cause fibrosis) when the water is taken away by the water tablets and lead to further complications. Also, as soon as you stop taking the water tablet, the protein will merely draw the water back to that area.  (protein has a hydrophilic property).

Anatomy
Arteries / Veins
Lymphatic system

You have a deep and superficial lymphatic system, that produces an average of 2-4 litres of lymphatic fluid in a day. Your lymphatic systems run very close to your arteries and veins and absorbs the extra fluid that your arteries and veins cannot absorb. It then gets transported back to the heart and it is then reabsorbed by your circulatory system. Your body gets rid of the excess amount of fluid then by urination or sweat.   When the lymphatic system then malfunctions or gets damaged, this is then when the fluid starts to collect in the tissue just underneath the skin.