What is Lymphoedema?Lymphodema team May 2015

Lymphoedema mainly affects arms and legs but can affect other parts of the body including the head and neck and develops because of a build-up of fluid in the body’s tissues. For some people it can be very distressing especially if it restricts their mobility.

It is a long-term progressive condition that can be controlled, particularly when detected early, but may require life-long treatment. Any trauma that disrupts the lymphatic system can result in a localised swelling and in this country is usually as a result of cancer and its treatment. Many other types of surgery or accidental injury put a person at risk and there is also a genetic cause which can sometimes be hereditary. People with increasing weight and poor mobility are increasingly developing the condition.

Lymphoedema can affect people at any age including children, although most of the patients in the service are aged over 60 years. Each patient has an individual assessment and specialist nurses look closely at the patient’s whole history including their medication, current level of social care, responsibilities in the home, and entitlement to benefits.


Treatment is mainly a self-care programme involving skin care promoting hygiene to reduce the risk of infection; exercise to propel lymph fluid and improve mobility; massage to enhance drainage and compression, usually in the form of stockings and arm sleeves. Treatment may also include a course of bandaging, manual lymphatic drainage, laser or pneumatic compression if needed. Providing support to improve wellbeing and quality of life is also an important aspect of the service.

Patients at risk

Patients at risk of developing lymphoedema can now be seen with the team providing information on prevention. In some cases lymphoedema can be prevented or the amount of swelling minimised, especially if it is caught early.

People at risk are those who have:

  • Surgery or radiotherapy affecting lymph nodes.

  • Surgery such as hip or knee replacements or varicose vein stripping.

  • Damage to skin or tissues caused by accidents, burns or blood clots

  • Cellulitis or infection of the legs

  • Family history of developing swelling

  • A long term condition that prevents normal movement


Referral to the service is by GP or other specialist doctor or nurse caring for you – we are no longer able to accept self-referrals.

Weekly clinics are held at:

  • Undercliffe Healthcare Centre

  • Westbourne Green Healthcare Centre

  • Canalside Healthcare Centre

A monthly clinic at:

  • Coronation Hospital at Ilkley.

For more information:

Airedale and Bradford Lymphoedema Service – please ring 01535 292712

The Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN) provides support and a range of information leaflets – please ring 020 73514480

Lymphoedema Service What to expect