Edema vs Lymphedema

What Is Edema?

A man with Edema in his arm

Although edema and lymphedema can look the same, they are actually quite different. Edema is the body’s normal response to injury or disease by the presence of swelling to the affected area or region. It is a sign that an affected area is healing, is temporary, and will resolve.

It can also be caused by systemic and/or vascular disease, which when treated, the inflammation will also resolve.

Edema does not leave a mark when a finger is pressed into it, called “non-pitting edema,” and it typically responds well to diuretics to get rid of excess water and sodium.

What Is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is not simply “swelling”. It is an abnormal condition that is a result of an impaired lymphatic system that in most cases, does not resolve without intervention. An impaired lymph system causes the area to swell due to the excess lymph fluid trapped in the tissues. Unlike edema, lymphedema swelling will leave a mark if you press your finger into it, which is known as “pitting edema.” Treating lymphedema with diuretics will not cure it, and in fact, can worsen the situation. Lymphedema is often times a chronic disease and those living with it are also at risk to developing infections such as cellulitis.

Edema vs Lymphedema Treatment Options

Edema vs Lymphedema Treatment Options

The good news is both conditions respond well to different therapies such as Manual Lymph Drainage, compression wrapping, and physical therapy.

With edema, lymphatic drainage is usually enough to reduce swelling.

If lymphedema is left untreated, Complete Decongestive Therapy is recommended as the best route for treatment and intervention.