All patients with lymphedema have an increased chance of infection (cellulitis) in the affected body part. This is because of the reduced immunity in the swollen limb. Although infection is an infrequent occurrence, it is important that all those with lymphedema know the signs of infection and obtain immediate medical advice if it occurs.

Many infections come from cuts, scrapes or other injury to the limb. Prevention advice as outlined in the AQL/LAQ brochure should be followed. If, in spite of these precautions, you develop the following signs and symptoms, please consult a doctor as soon as possible for an evaluation and to obtain antibiotics:

  1. sudden onset of a rash with distinct red margins, discoloration and itching in the affected limb
  2. increased swelling
  3. fever or chills
  4. pain that may radiate into the axilla or groin

In addition to taking antibiotics, you should put off any manual lymph drainage, and start again when the doctor advises you to do so. Bandaging, compression sleeves or stockings can be continued if it is comfortable for you (since the limb may be painful for as few days). Some patients may require intravenous antibiotics in hospital if the antibiotics by mouth do not control the symptoms rapidly, or if the symptoms are severe.

For your Doctor

Version 2019-08

McGill University Health Centre and Association québécoise du lymphœdème