Signs and Symptoms

Lymphedema can occur in any part of the body, most often in the arms and legs, but also the breast or chest wall, head and neck, or genitals. At risk patients should monitor the area. Remember that lymphedema onset can be slow, often starting at the furthest part of the limb (hand/wrist, foot/ankle), but any changes should be marked down and communicated by the patient to their physician/therapist.

Clinical Signs and symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • Swelling in the arm or leg
    • Onset may be slow or rapid
    • Progressive
    • Pitting
    • Most often starts distally
  • A heavy or tight feeling in the affected area
  • Cellulitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Positive Kaposi-Stemmer’s Sign. The Kaposi-Stemmer’s sign is very valuable for diagnosis of lymphedema. (See section on diagnosis of lymphedema)

Patients having these symptoms should be evaluated for lymphedema, even if symptoms are temporary and then resolve. Early therapy by a certified lymphedema therapist (CLT) can improve patient symptoms and outcomes.