Lymphedema is a chronic condition characterized by swelling and/or discomfort in affected areas of the body. Under ordinary circumstances, the clear fluid that bathes the spaces between the body’s cells (interstitial, or extracellular fluid) drains into local lymphatic vessels, where it is recirculated toward the heart and into the general circulation. This fluid is called lymph when it circulates through the lymphatic vessels.
Under certain circumstances lymphatic vessels become incapable of draining lymph properly. Fluid builds up in local tissues, resulting in lymphedema. Some people are born with this condition. In other instances, lymphedema results from vessel damage due to cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, lymph node removal, radiation therapy, or trauma. Although incurable, lymphedema is managed through a multi-pronged approach, which includes wearing medical-grade graduated-compression garments.