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Difference Between Lymphedema and Edema

Lymphedema vs Edema

Edema is a clinical term in medicine in which fluids, particularly interstitial fluid, gathers and accumulates beneath the skin area. Interstitial fluid is a fluid that came from interstitial spaces or tissue spaces which give the cells the nutrients needed and functions for the excretion of waste. On the other hand, lymphedema occurs due to a defective lymphatic system. In lymphedema, an accumulation of fluid settles around the legs and calves making the legs bulging, heavier, and bigger.

Edema can be classified as pitting, generalized, and organ-specific edema. In pitting edema, when you apply pressure on the skin, the indentation remains for a few seconds. A good example is peripheral edema which is usually seen in patients having congestive heart failure, pregnant women, and patients with varicose veins. This is usually seen in the legs, calves, and feet. For generalized edema, this involves the whole body. This is common in children with nephrotic syndrome and liver failure as well. The last classification of edema is organ specific and can occur in the brain, lungs, and eyes. These organ-specific edemas are due to triggering an abnormal balance of osmotic pressure resulting in accumulation of fluid. Diagnostic exams such as a CT scan and x-ray can produce the images necessary to see fluid accumulation in case of organ-specific edema.

Lymphedema can be classified from mild to extreme cases. It is quite hard to diagnose because the symptoms can’t be seen in an instant. There is the so-called staging by the World Health Organization Expert Committee on filariasis. Stage zero or the latent phase doesn’t involve lymphedema. Stage 1 is the pitting stage. The size of the leg is still normal. Stage 2 is irreversible for the indentation stays. In this stage, the blood vessels become stiff, and the lymphatic system becomes defective. The leg also increases in size. Stage 3 is the last classification. This is also irreversible. The tissues become stiff thus making the leg very enormous.

Treatment for edema depends on the organ. But in skin-related edema, anti-inflammatory medications can be used. In generalized edema, loop diuretics are usually used such as Lasix injected via an intravenous route. The fluid will then be released through the urine. For cerebral edema, osmotic diuretics are used such as Mannitol to decrease fluid accumulation in the brain. Treatment for lymphedema depends on the severity. Compression stockings are usually used for lymphedema to increase venous sufficiency and prevent further complications, such as, venous stasis which will cause thrombophlebitis.

Edema and lymphedema are two occasions in which an individual must seek medical treatment. It is a nice to know the facts so that an individual can distinguish it for his or her health.



Lymphedema is an accumulation of fluid particularly in the legs and calf area while edema can occur at different parts of the body.

Lymphedema is quite difficult to diagnose because the symptoms aren’t instantly present. Edema, on the other hand, can be seen through the naked eye. In case of organ-specific edema, diagnostic tests allow the doctor to visualize the edema.

Treatment for edema depends on the classification. Treatment for lymphedema is usually compression stockings. Other methods are surgery and lasers.

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  1. Poorly written article does not provide the salient features that allow bedside recognition and rapid differentiation of venous edema from lymphedema!

  2. I have been diagnosed with Lymphedema by several physicians at the Cleveland Clinic. I was well-educated by them re: (1) the appearance; (2) the causes; (3) the best initial treatment to reduce the risks of additional complications; and (4) the importance of immediately seeking medical assistance in the event that signs of cellulitis appear (I have had 4 bouts of cellulitis – on one occasion I waited almost too long before going to the ER, and was told that I was much too close to sepsis. I learned my lesson!) I find this article to contain some misinformation as well as missing some vital information.

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