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What causes Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a chronic, abnormal accumulation of protein-rich fluid in an affected area. It is found most often in the extremities but can also be in the head, neck, abdomen, face or genitals.

There are two types of lymphedema.

Primary Lymphedema is a developmental abnormality of the lymphatic system, which is either hereditary or congenital. Lymphedema praecox is the most common form of primary lymphedema. It presents after birth but before the age of 35 (usually at puberty or pregnancy). Lymphedema tarda is relatively rare, develops after the age of 35. Primary lymphedema almost always affects the lower extremities and involves mostly females.

Secondary Lymphedema means that there is a known insult to the lymph system. Common causes include; surgery, radiation, trauma, infection, Filariasis, malignant tumor, Chronic Venous Insufficiency, immobility or self-induced.

It is estimated that 140-250 million cases of lymphedema exist. Filariasis, a parasitic infection, is the most common cause worldwide. In the United States, the highest incidence of lymphedema is observed following breast cancer surgery with radiation.


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