Lymphedema: Pathophysiology and clinical manifestations

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Lymphedema is a localized form of tissue swelling resulting from excessive retention of lymphatic fluid in the interstitial compartment and caused by impaired lymphatic drainage. Lymphedema is classified as primary or secondary. Primary lymphedema is caused by developmental lymphatic vascular anomalies. Secondary lymphedema is acquired and arises as a result of an underlying systemic disease, trauma, or surgery. We performed PubMed and Google Scholar searches of the English-language literature (1966-2017) using the terms lymphedema, cancer-related lymphedema, and lymphatic complications. Relevant publications were manually reviewed for additional resources. This progressive chronic disease has serious implications on patients’ quality of life. It is often misdiagnosed because it mimics other conditions of extremity swelling. There is no definitive cure for lymphedema. However, with proper diagnosis and management, its progression and potential complications may be limited.

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