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Wirral University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

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Lymphoedema Service

What is Lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is a chronic swelling caused by a failure in lymph drainage and is a long-term (chronic) condition that causes swelling in the body's tissues. It can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in the arms or legs. It's important that lymphoedema is identified and treated as soon as possible. If it isn't treated, it can get worse.

Why Lymphoedema occurs

Lymphoedema develops when the lymphatic system doesn't work properly. The lymphatic system is a network of channels and glands throughout the body that helps fight infection and remove excess fluid.

Lymphoedema may occur due to an underlying issue with the lymphatic system. This is known as primary lymphoedema. It may also occur due to another cause such as cancer or its treatment, limb dependency or chronic venous insufficiency. This is known as secondary lymphoedema. 

Symptoms of Lymphoedema

The main symptom of lymphoedema is swelling in all or part of a limb or another part of the body. It can be difficult to fit into clothes, and jewellery and watches can feel tight.

At first, the swelling may come and go. It may get worse during the day and go down overnight. Without treatment, it will usually become more severe and persistent.

Other symptoms in an affected body part can include:

  • an aching, heavy feeling
  • difficulty with movement
  • repeated skin infections
  • hard, tight skin
  • folds developing in the skin
  • wart-like growths developing on the skin
  • fluid leaking through the skin

Where we are

Our Lymphoedema Service takes place at Clatterbridge Hospital.

What we do

Our service helps the patient to become independent in the self-management of their condition.

Combinations of physical therapies are used to minimise and control the swelling. This involves compression garments, massage and exercise. Rigorous skin care is recommended to maintain skin integrity and minimise cellulitis. Education and the provision of information play a key part in the treatment process.

In cases of severe swelling and mid-line oedema, patients are treated with a course of intensive treatment including daily bandaging and massage.

[Some information supplied by NHS Choices]