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Diagnosis - Lymphoedema

If you're having cancer treatment, you may be at risk of developing lymphoedema. Your treatment team will check you for the condition.

Otherwise, contact your GP if you have symptoms of swelling.

Your GP can diagnose lymphoedema by:

  • asking about your symptoms and medical history
  • examining the affected limb and measuring it to see if it's enlarged

The GP may refer you to a specialist for further assessment.

Further tests

Often further tests are not necessary. But your doctor may use them to assess and track your condition.

Measuring limb volume

In some cases, your doctor may do tests to calculate the volume of an affected limb.

These may include:

  • using a tape measure – to measure around the limb at certain points along it
  • water displacement – to measure the amount of water that's displaced when you put the affected limb in a special tank of water
  • perometry – to measure the outline of an affected limb using infrared light

Bioimpedance testing

During a bioimpedance test, your doctor places electrodes (small metallic discs) on different parts of your body.

The electrodes release a small, painless electric charge. A handheld device measures the current. Changes in the strength of the current can show the presence of fluid in your tissue.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests make detailed pictures of areas inside the body. They can help diagnose and track lymphoedema.

The tests can include:

  • lymphoscintigrams – you're injected with a very small amount of radioactive dye and a scanner shows it moving through your lymphatic system
  • MRI scans
  • ultrasound scans
  • CT scans

Your doctor can use these scans to get a detailed image of the affected tissue. Scans are useful to check for blockages.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 25 March 2021
Next review due: 25 March 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.