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Temporary Lymphedema versus Chronic Lymphedema

When we usually think of lymphedema, it is in terms of a permanent condition.

However, there is a form of lymphedema that is temporary or “transient.”

The following excerpt from the National Cancer Institute gives an excellent description and comparison between the two.

Temporary lymphedema

Temporary lymphedema is a condition that lasts less than 6 months. The skin indents when pressed and stays indented, but there is no hardening of the skin. A patient may be more likely to develop lymphedema if he or she has one of the following:

  • Surgical drains that leak protein into the surgical site.
  • Inability to move the limb(s).
  • Blockage of a vein by a blood clot or inflammation.

Chronic Lymphedema

Chronic (long-term) lymphedema is the most difficult of all types of edema to treat. The damaged lymphatic system of the affected area is not able to keep up with the increased need for fluid drainage from the body tissues. This may be caused by one of the following:

  • Periods of not being able to move the limbs.
  • Inability to control early signs of lymphedema.


A patient who is in the early stages of developing lymphedema will have swelling that indents with pressure and stays indented but remains soft. The swelling may easily improve by supporting the arm or leg in a raised position, gently exercising, and wearing elastic support garments. Continued problems with the lymphatic system cause the lymphatic vessels to expand, allowing lymph to flow back into the body tissues and make the condition worse. Pain, heat, redness, and swelling result as the body tries to get rid of the extra fluid. The skin becomes hard and stiff and no longer improves with raised support of the arm or leg, gentle exercise, or elastic support garments.

Patients with chronic lymphedema are at increased risk of infection. No effective treatment is yet available for patients who have advanced chronic lymphedema. Once the body tissues have been repeatedly stretched, lymphedema may recur more easily.

National Cancer Institute

Can Temporary Lymphedema become Permanent?

Yes. Change occurs over time as fluid become embedded in subcutaneous connective tissues, restricting join movement and gradually causing edema to be nonpitting. Affect skin become hard, thick, and braeny in appearance. (1)

It is my own personal opinion that IF you have experienced any of the risk factors for lymphedema or if you have any of the warning signs of lymphedema and you have swelling, even temporary swelling, it would be a wise decision to make an appointment with a certified lymphedema therapist for an assessment.

The sooner you have lymphedema diagnosed and undergo treatment the more likely you are to avoid the serious complications of lymphedema.

I also believe that even temporary lymphedema is a indication that you may be vulnerable for chronic or permenant lymphedema.

Pat O'Connor

(1)Comtemporary Issue in Breast Cancer: A Nursing Perspective

Related Lymphedema People Pages

Lymphedema People Resources

temporary_lymphedema_versus_chronic_lymphedema.txt · Last modified: 2012/10/16 14:40 (external edit)