Comprehensive Guide to Lymphedema in Children

By: Lindsay Davey, MScPT, MSc, CDT
May 24, 2018
Editors: Ryan Davey, PhD and Lindsay Davey, MScPT, MSc, CDT

Lymphedema in Children

Primary and secondary lymphedema in children is relatively rare, but carries with it the significant and lifelong burden of having to manage chronic swelling and prevent secondary complications. Here I describe pediatric lymphedema (also called ‘paediatric lymphoedema’), and the special considerations for diagnosis, ongoing monitoring, treatment, and complications.

The majority of patients with lymphedema experience the same basic symptoms, and are managed using the same basic strategy. This is true regardless of whether they are an adult, child or infant. It is also true irrespective of whether they have primary lymphedema arising from a developmental abnormality, or secondary lymphedema acquired due to lymphatic damage (often cancer-related).

Although lymphedema symptoms and management strategies are broadly similar between patients, pediatric lymphedema does present some unique challenges and considerations.

The diagnosis and monitoring of pediatric lymphedema can be more difficult, novel complications can arise, and modifications for ongoing monitoring, treatment and self-management are required.

This brief guide is meant to provide caregivers with an overview of what current research and best practice tells us about the characteristics, diagnosis, and treatment of lymphedema in children (from infants to teenagers). I will also highlight how lymphedema in children differs from adult lymphedema.

What is pediatric lymphedema?

Lymphedema in children falls into two broad categories: (1) primary pediatric lymphedema, and (2) secondary pediatric lymphedema. The former is an abnormality that a patient is born with, while the latter is acquired due to an event or injury that resulted in lymphatic damage.

Type 1: Pediatric primary lymphedema

Primary lymphedema is a chronic swelling condition caused by an abnormal development of the lymphatic system in an area of the body. The prevalence of primary lymphedema in people under 20 is commonly reported as 1.15 per 100,000 people (ref1), but the methodology used to come up with this number is rather questionable (ref2) and it is likely to be significantly higher (ref3), perhaps even as high as 1 in 6000 (ref4).

The extent of lymphatic malformation varies between individuals, as does the area of the body affected. As a result, some patients are born with visible symptoms, while others develop swelling only later in childhood or adolescence. Others still will first develop symptoms of lymphedema as an adult, usually after some aggravating lymphatic event such as weight gain, injury or infection.

I) How does pediatric primary lymphedema occur?

The lymphatic system is comprised of lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes that normally act to clear excess fluid called ‘lymph’ from tissues of the body, recycling it back into the blood stream. Along with the cardiovascular system (your arteries and veins), the lymphatic system is responsible for maintaining a normal fluid balance, clearing cellular waste, and participating in immune surveillance.

If the lymphatic system fails to function properly, lymph fluid will accumulate in the affected area, and swelling will result. The stagnant lymph fluid will also cause local immune system suppression and therefore increase the risk of infection.

If lymphedema is left unchecked, a patient will naturally progress through the stages of lymphedema (see more on the stages in Table 1). This process culminates in substantial swelling and permanent tissue changes to the affected area including fibrosis (scar formation) and adipose deposition (fat accumulation). See our post: “Untreated lymphatic swelling promotes weight gain by altering stem cell behaviour”.

Congenital lymphatic abnormalities that create primary lymphedema include:

  1. A decrease in the number of lymphatic vessels or lymph nodes.
  2. Changes in the size of lymphatic vessels or lymph nodes (either too big or too small).
  3. Poorly formed lymphatic vessels or lymph nodes.

II) When does pediatric primary lymphedema begin to show symptoms?

This varies. In some cases swelling caused by primary lymphedema can be seen by ultrasound in utero during the third trimester of pregnancy (ref5).

Looking at the data from recent clinical studies, it appears that about one-third to one-half of children with pediatric primary lymphedema are born with symptoms or develop them as an infant (ages 0-1) (ref3,5,6). A smaller proportion of children appear to first develop symptoms during childhood (ages 1-8 in girls and 1-9 in boys), and the sizable remainder during adolescence (ages 9-21 in girls and 10-21 in boys).

But these numbers mask an apparent gender difference. The majority of boys with lymphedema have been found to be born with it or develop it in infancy, while the majority of girls develop it in early adolescence (around 10-12 years old) (ref5,6).

The timing, area affected, and extent of swelling depends on the location and degree of lymphatic malformation, which varies person to person.  It may only initiate in a child or teenager after a growth spurt, while other patients with primary lymphedema only develop symptoms later in life as an adult.

III) How did my child get primary lymphedema?

Primary lymphedema is the result of abnormalities in the lymphatic system likely caused by one or more genetic mutations. But the exact underlying cause of the condition is unclear. Since a wide selection of genes have been potentially implicated in the development of primary lymphedema (ref5), the underlying reason for its appearance could differ between patients.

A genetic mutation implicated in primary lymphedema may be inherited from a parent, thereby predisposing them to getting the condition, or it may arise sporadically in the patient (occurring by chance rather than inherited). Primary lymphedema could also be just one symptom of a larger inherited genetic disorder.

Recent evidence suggests that possibly as many as one quarter of pediatric primary lymphedema patients inherited their condition. In three recent independent studies of pediatric primary lymphedema, 12-27% of patients were found to have a family history of the disease, or found to suffer from an inherited genetic disorder that can include lymphedema as a symptom (ref3,5,6). Some of these inherited disorders are listed below.

IV) Other genetic syndromes that have been linked to primary lymphedema in children

  1. Gorham disease
  2. Hennekam syndrome
  3. Klippel Trenaunay Weber syndrome
  4. Lymphedema-distichiasis syndrome
  5. Meige disease
  6. Milroy’s disease
  7. Noonan syndrome
  8. Triple-X syndrome
  9. Turner’s syndrome

V) How similar is my child’s experience of primary lymphedema to that of other children?

How does primary lymphedema usually present in children? Is my child’s lymphedema ‘typical’? Below is a breakdown of how primary lymphedema in children typically manifests:

  1. Girls appear to get primary pediatric lymphedema more frequently than boys (58-70% of patients in three recent studies were female (ref3,5,6).
  2. Girls usually first exhibit symptoms during early adolescence, rather than being born with it or developing it as an infant, which is the more common pattern seen in boys (ref5,6).
  3. Primary lymphedema in children tends to occur in specific areas of the body, but at different frequencies (data compiled from ref3,5,6 unless otherwise noted):
    1. Limbs. Primary lymphedema usually involves a limb (88-96% of the time), sometimes the arms (8-12%), but most frequently in one or both legs (92-97% ref3,6).  About half the time if lymphedema is present in one arm or leg, it will also be present in the other.  Lymphedema of the leg can affect the foot only, the foot and calf, the thigh only, or the whole leg.
    2. Genitalia. Genitalia is another frequent site of lymphedema (6-14%), although it usually occurs in combination with leg lymphedema. The vulva, scrotum, penis and testicles can be affected.
    3. Other sites. Total body lymphedema has been reported, but very rarely (0.5%). Primary lymphedema has also been reported in the torso (8%) and the face (5%) (ref3).
  4. Lymphedema in infants does not progress differently nor have a worse prognosis than lymphedema that develops later in life (ref6).

VI) Triggers of swelling onset in children with primary lymphedema

For a child with primary lymphedema, initial onset may have no apparent triggering event. As a result, the swelling is discovered by chance and is not accompanied by any other symptoms, nor is it painful.  In such cases it is likely that lymphatic function has been suboptimal for some time, but not enough to be symptomatic.

Triggers for the initial onset of primary lymphedema in children include events that cause local swelling:

  1. Minor trauma, such as a sprained ankle. Children with primary lymphedema have a reduced capacity to remove lymph fluid. This reduced capacity may only be revealed after a minor injury that causes acute inflammation and swelling, which in turn overloads the lymphatic system with fluid. The result is swelling that does not subside normally, thereby initiating lymphedema symptoms. Minor trauma could also initiate lymphedema by temporarily damaging functioning lymphatic vessels themselves, thereby overloading the already sub-optimal lymphatic system.
  2. Medical procedures. Much like minor trauma, minor surgery can cause swelling and inflammation, and thereby initiate the symptoms of lymphedema. For example, this could include circumcision in the case of genital lymphedema.
  3. Insect bites cause local swelling and inflammation, and could therefore initiate lymphedema symptoms.
  4. Infection in the area of the body with reduced lymphatic capacity can initiate primary lymphedema. Even before symptoms of primary lymphedema are apparent, decreased lymphatic capacity may be contributing to suppressed immune function, thus predisposing the area to infection.
  5. Sedentary periods. Immobility for a prolonged period of time, such as during an airplane flight, can cause swelling in the legs. In patients with asymptomatic primary lymphedema, this swelling might overwhelm a child’s already reduced lymphatic functional capacity, thereby initiating lymphedema symptoms.

Type 2: Pediatric secondary lymphedema

Secondary lymphedema is a chronic swelling condition caused by damage to lymphatic vessels or nodes in an area of the body. While commonly thought of as an affliction of adults, secondary lymphedema can occur at any age.

I) How does pediatric secondary lymphedema occur?

The lymphatic system is comprised of lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes that normally act to clear excess fluid called ‘lymph’ from tissues of the body, and recycle it back into the blood stream. Along with the cardiovascular system (your arteries and veins), the lymphatic system is responsible for maintaining a healthy fluid balance, clearing cellular waste, and participating in immune surveillance.

If the lymphatic system fails to work properly, lymph fluid will accumulate in the affected area of the body, and swelling will occur. The stagnant lymph also results in local immune system suppression and increased susceptibility to infection.

If left unchecked, a patient will normally progress through the stages of lymphedema (see Table 1 below) culminating in permanent changes to the area including fibrosis (scar formation) and adipose deposition (fat accumulation). See our post: “Untreated Lymphatic Swelling Promotes Weight Gain by Altering Stem Cell Behaviour”.

Lymphatic injuries that can cause secondary lymphedema in children include:

  1. Malignant tumours which physically interfere with lymphatic function.
  2. Lymphatic damage caused by medical interventions including cancer treatment, or surgery such as to correct an undescended testicle (ref6).
  3. Severe traumatic injury that permanently damages lymphatic vessels or nodes.
  4. Infection causing severe inflammation.
  5. Other syndromes and disorders that can cause lymphatic damage:
    1. Amniotic band syndrome and hair-tourniquet syndrome in newborns.
    2. Congenital vascular malformations (of small arteries and veins).
    3. Lipedema.

Stages of primary and secondary lymphedema in children

The progression of lymphedema in children follows the same general pattern as for adults, regardless of the origin of the lymphedema (primary or secondary), or the location of the body region affected. The stages of lymphedema are described in Foldi’s scale (see Table 1). For head and neck lymphedema some modification to the stages has been proposed (see: “Patient Guide to Head and Neck Lymphedema Following Cancer Treatment“).

Table 1: Foldi’s scale describing the stages of lymphedema progression in children and adults.

 Stage Pathology Symptoms Diagnosis
 0Small areas of scar tissue formationNo visible swellingLymphoscintigraphy
 1Small areas of scar tissue formation, high-protein swellingSelf-reversing swelling (elevation or sleep may reduce swelling), soft and ‘pitting’ (finger press leaves a temporary indent)Medical history, visual inspection and palpation may be sufficient
 2Significant scar tissue formation, swelling, adipose (fat) accumulationIrreversible swelling (unless treated), firm and non-pittingMedical history, visual inspection and palpation may be sufficient
 3Extensive scar tissue formation, swelling, adipose (fat) accumulationExtensive and irreversible swelling, firm and non-pitting, with some degree of physical debilitationMedical history, visual inspection and palpation may be sufficient

If left untreated and unmanaged, children with lymphedema will normally progress to stage 2 of the condition, and in some cases to stage 3.

Thankfully, age of lymphedema onset does not appear to influence how the disease progresses, nor its prognosis. Infants with lymphedema do not appear to have worse outcomes than children who develop it later in life (ref5,6).

Diagnosis of primary and secondary lymphedema in children

Physical Examination and Medical History

If a practitioner is knowledgeable about lymphedema, the diagnosis of lymphedema in adults can most often be made based on medical history, visual inspection, and examining the skin and underlying tissue with their hands alone.

For children this can be more of a challenge. For example, the reason for a swollen leg in a child can be difficult to determine as various potential causes must be first ruled out (ref7).

For this reason, medical history, visual inspection and hands-on palpation alone may not suffice for a diagnosis of lymphedema in children.


Lymphoscintigraphy is a very effective diagnostic tool for confirming the presence of lymphedema in both adults and children, as well as for understanding the location and degree of lymphatic obstruction. In the case of leg lymphedema, lymphoscintigraphy involves injecting a radioactive tracing agent into the feet of a patient and mapping the flow of the tracer over time as it travels through the legs’ lymphatics, using a radiation detecting camera or scanner.

Guidelines on when to use lymphoscintigraphy in children are unclear. Some groups do not consider lymphoscintigraphy to be appropriate or effective in young children (ref8, ref9). It has been proposed by another group to be suitable for children over 10, in order to ensure that the child can understand and effectively participate in the procedure (ref5).

Genetic testing

Genetic testing can be useful for establishing the presence of a genetic syndrome linked to primary lymphedema in children. See above for a list of syndromes potentially implicated.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with or without contrast agents may be useful for ruling in lymphedema in infants and young children where lymphoscintigraphy is inappropriate, or to rule out other causes of swelling including tissue hypertrophy (ref3,9). It can be used to look for physical issues such as missing lymph nodes, or other vascular or lymphatic abnormalities.

Other Diagnostic Tools

  • Physicians may order various additional tests, often in order to rule out alternative diagnoses. Recent studies indicate that physicians commonly order ultrasonography, as well as X-ray studies (computed tomography, and plain films) to better understand the source of swelling in children with lymphedema (ref6).
  • Ultrasound can be used to determine if swelling is an accumulation of fluid, and of what type, or to look for vascular clots as an alternative cause. Doppler ultrasound can be used to help evaluate fluid flow in arteries, veins and lymphatic vessels.
  • Prenatal ultrasound can be used to identify the presence of lymphedema in the third trimester of pregnancy.
  • Common blood tests may also be helpful to rule out other potential causes of swelling, such as hypoproteinaemia.

Diagnosis and treatment of childhood lymphedema is often delayed

The diagnosis of lymphedema in children is often delayed, and so too is proper care and management of the condition. This can result in considerable stress for the family, and can create less favourable outcomes for the child.

Patients with primary lymphedema appear to wait longer for diagnosis and subsequent treatment than their peers with secondary lymphedema.

One study in Victoria Australia showed that people (of all ages) with primary lymphedema waited on average 9.4 years for a diagnosis, compared with 1.5 years for patients with secondary lymphedema (ref2). The delay in diagnosis for primary lymphedema patients is presumably in part due to the relative rarity of the condition, in part due to its transient nature at early stages, and in part due to having to rule out various alternative diagnoses.

Treatment of lymphedema in children may also be delayed due to a lack of knowledge about the condition and the available services to treat it. In the UK one study showed that after diagnosis, 16% of patients waited less than 6 months for referral, and 55% waited less than 2 years, but 16% reported waiting 10-17 years after first showing symptoms (ref3).

Ongoing measurement and monitoring of primary and secondary lymphedema in children

As with lymphedema in an adult, lymphedema in children needs to be actively monitored to ensure it is being effectively managed. In adults lymphedema can be monitored effectively through subjective and objective measures.

Subjective measures of lymphedema include skin firmness and patient reports about how the affected area feels (such as “heaviness” or “tightness”). Objective measures include physical measurement of the area or limb, preferably in comparison to an unaffected area or limb (when possible), as well as hands-on evaluation of the tissue quality for the presence and nature of the swelling, any areas of density or firmness indicating fibrosis, and so on.

Objective measures of lymphedema in children are difficult because children are actively growing, however relative changes in volume compared to an unaffected side of the body (if possible) can be helpful. In many cases the monitoring of lymphedema in children needs to rely on subjective metrics such as the patient’s experience of their lymphedema, as well as changes in the firmness of the swelling.

Common health complications in children with primary or secondary lymphedema

Unmanaged lymphedema will progress through the stages of lymphedema (see Table 1 above), creating irreversible skin and tissue changes, and associated symptoms. In addition to these changes, children with lymphedema are at risk of secondary complications.

Secondary complications of lymphedema

I) Infection

The lymphatic system plays a key role in monitoring and responding to infection. So it is not surprising that the accumulation of stagnant lymph fluid during lymphedema progression predisposes the patient to infection. As a result, infection of the skin and underlying tissues, called cellulitis, is a common complication (for an example, please see Figure 1). This is often experienced as an area of redness that is tender and warm, and can usually be rapidly resolved with a course of antibiotics. For more information on the risk factors for developing cellulitis, see our post: “Risk Factors for Cellulitis in Patients with Lymphedema“.

In three recent studies of primary lymphedema in children, 12.5%-18% of the children were found to have experienced cellulitis, with many having recurring infection (ref3,5,6). These rates appear to be lower than those reported for adults, suggesting that children may be less prone to developing infection (ref 3). However, a very recent study following 128 children with primary lymphedema over an 8 year period contradicts this conclusion (ref 11). The authors of this study found the incidence rate in children to be similar to that of adults, and also found that 45% of the children in their study were hospitalized at least once for signs of severe infection or sepsis. Unfortunately, the first incidence of cellulitis was observed to typically occur quite early in life (at a median age of 11.5 years in their study), despite good skin care practices. Of the children who experienced cellulitis, 29% had a second episode, and 26% had three or more episodes.

In addition to cellulitis, infection within the lymph vessels, called lymphangitis can also occur, but is more rare.

Cellulitis in the leg of a child with lymphedema

Figure 1: Cellulitis in the left leg of a four year old child with lymphedema. Image adapted from Schook C.C., 2011 (ref6).


II) Other complications

  1. Psychological issues including self-consciousness with respect to the swelling, or fear and avoidance of physical activities.
  2. Upslanting toenails was reported in one study to be a frequent complication for children with lymphedema (ref5,6). Approximately one third of children with leg lymphedema exhibited it. Upslanted toenails can increase the likelihood of pulling off a nail when putting on clothes or compression garments, and along with ingrown toenails, can increase the risk of infection. For an example of upslanting toenails, see Figure 2.
  3. Skin changes including hardening and the formation of small bumps.
  4. Orthopaedic issues such as difficulty with walking in advanced cases of leg lymphedema.
  5. Genital and urinary symptoms for cases of genital lymphedema, such as painful or difficult urination and urethral inflammation.
  6. Lymphorrhea, which is leakage of lymph fluid through openings in the skin, can increase the risk of infection due to the skin breach and the presence of the nutrient-rich lymph fluid acting as a food source for bacteria.
  7. Ulceration. Swelling causes the skin to become stretched and more fragile, increasing the risk of skin ulcers.
Upslanting toenails pediatric lymphedema

Figure 2: Upslanting toenails in a child with lymphedema. Image adapted from Vidal F., 2016 (ref5).


Treatment of primary and secondary lymphedema in children

Differences in the treatment of lymphedema in children and adults

The treatment of lymphedema in children is essentially the same as that for adults, with three key modifications necessary to ensure good outcomes (ref10):

  1. Parents and caregivers need to be fully educated on and intimately involved in monitoring and managing the symptoms of lymphedema and secondary complications. They should also encourage the child to practice proper self-management techniques, which they will need to learn as a life skill.
  2. Parents and caregivers need to actively encourage and support child participation in normal physical activities.
  3. Parents and caregivers need to provide strong emotional and psychological support to their child, and seek professional help as necessary.

Lymphedema treatment approaches

I) Why can’t we simply elevate a limb to drain out the excess fluid?

In early lymphedema (stage 1) swelling can be partially or fully eliminated by elevating a limb, or may be found to be reduced in the morning after sleep. At this stage the lymphatic system is retaining enough function to sufficiently clear lymph fluid when the total limb fluid load is reduced through the help of gravity and inactivity.

However, if lymphedema remains untreated, the swelling will continue to progress. Eventually elevation and sleep will have no effect on the swelling. Why is this?

To understand why, we need to understand the difference between the cardiovascular system and lymphatic system. The cardiovascular system uses the pumping action of the heart (with assistance from muscle activity and gravity) to push blood through the body.

Instead of having one large heart to do the pumping, the lymphatic system relies primarily on the pumping action of many small fluid chambers that make up the lymphatic vessels. These lymphatic vessels then connect into larger vessels at fluid basins called lymph nodes.

Rather than fluid simply “draining” out of the tissues, the lymphatic system actively, and continuously, sucks up lymphatic fluid.

We rely on the lymphatic system because the venous system alone is incapable of collecting all of this excess fluid that would otherwise accumulate in the tissues. This is why simply raising a lymphedematous arm (which helps venous flow) will not eliminate more advanced cases of lymphedema.

II) Complex Decongestive Therapy

The standard treatment for lymphedema is Complex (or Combined) Decongestive Therapy (CDT), which includes manual lymphatic drainage, compression wrapping and/or compression garments, and education on skin safety and exercise provided by a certified lymphedema therapist.

CDT can be very effective at reducing the volume of swelling, softening areas of fibrosis, and preventing flare-ups. A CDT therapist should also provide guidance to the child and caregiver for self-management, including wrapping and garment use, manual lymphatic drainage exercises, and education on preventing flare-ups and secondary complications, skin care, and other information.

Effective management of lymphedema requires active ongoing self-management, caregiver management or co-management.

One specialized clinic recommended compression bandages be worn as much as possible each day, overnight for children who walk, and 24 hours a day for non-walking children (ref5).

For more information on lymphedema treatment and prevention of lymphedema flare-ups and secondary complications, please see: “Patient Guide to Lymphedema Symptoms, Prevention and Management”.

III) Surgery

Surgical interventions for lymphedema are still relatively new, are not curative, are typically not covered by health insurance, and are still not widely available. They are also generally only considered for advanced cases that do not respond to Complex Decongestive Therapy.

Surgery in lymphedematous children may be warranted for specific reasons, on a case-by-case basis. Use of surgery in children appears to be more common with genital lymphedema than for those with limb lymphedema (ref6).

Surgical interventions in children may be used to:

  1. Repair damage caused by swelling (such as damage to genitalia caused by a testicular hydrocele).
  2. De-bulk advanced cases of hardened lymphedema by direct excision or liposuction of accumulated adipose and fibrotic tissue. Specialized liposuction has been shown to be very effective at reducing the excess adipose tissue found in stage 3 patients. This procedure can offer these patients significant functional and cosmetic improvement, and with appropriate life-long management, re-progression of the disease can be prevented. See “Patient Guide: Liposuction for Lymphedema“.
  3. Repair lymphatic damage in secondary lymphedema by lymphovenous bypass. In this procedure, still healthy lymphatic vessels that have been disrupted or obstructed are connected to very small nearby veins in an attempt to improve lymph drainage. Alternatively, lymphatic vessels may be attached to nearby still functional lymphatic vessels.
  4. Repair missing or damaged lymph nodes in secondary lymphedema through lymph node or lymph vessel transfer (along with artery and vein transfer) from another site in the body. As you might expect, this procedure has the risk of resulting in donor site lymphedema.

Triggers of swelling flare-up in children with primary or secondary lymphedema

Events that cause local swelling can initiate a flare-up of lymphedema in patients with early stage 1 lymphedema, be it primary or secondary lymphedema.

In stage 1 lymphedema the swelling is spontaneously reversible, meaning that it can come and go on its own. It is also usually reduced or absent in the morning after sleeping, or if the area of the body is elevated.

The same factors that can initiate the onset of asymptomatic primary lymphedema (as we saw above), can also trigger the temporary bouts of increased swelling observed in early lymphedema (stage 1).

Triggers of swelling flare-up in children:

  1. Minor trauma, such as a sprained ankle.
  2. Medical procedures, such as minor surgery.
  3. Insect bites.
  4. Infection. Infection causes inflammation and swelling, and lymphedematous areas of the body are predisposed to infection due to local immune suppression caused by lymph fluid stagnation.
  5. Sedentary periods. Immobility for a prolonged period of time, such as during an airplane flight, can cause swelling in the legs.


  1. Smeltzer D.M., Stickler G.B., Schirger A. Primary lymphedema in children and adolescents: a follow-up study and review. Pediatrics. 1985 Aug;76(2):206-18. abstract
  2. Phillips J.J., Gordon S.J. Conservative management of lymphoedema in children: a systematic review. J Pediatr Rehabil Med. 2014;7(4):361-72. abstract
  3. Todd J., Craig G., Todd M., et al. Audit of childhood lymphoedema in the United Kingdom undertaken by members of the Children’s Lymphoedema Special Interest Group. J of Lymphoedema. 2014;9(2):14-19.
  4. Dale R.F. The inheritance of primary lymphoedema. J Med Genet. 1985;22:274-278. abstract
  5. Vidal F., Arrault M., Vignes S. Pediatric primary lymphoedema: a cohort of 155 children and newborns. Br J Dermatol. 2016 Mar 16. [Epub ahead of print].
  6. Schook C.C., Mulliken J.B., Fishman S.J. et al. Primary lymphedema: clinical features and management in 138 pediatric patients. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2011 Jun;127(6):2419-31. abstract
  7. Wright N.B., Carty H.M. The swollen leg and primary lymphoedema. Arch Dis Child. 1994 Jul;71(1):44-49. abstract
  8. Baulieu F, Vaillant L, Gironet N et al. Intérêt de la lymphoscintigraphie dans l’exploration des lymphoedèmes de l’enfant. J Mal Vasc 2003;28:269–76.
  9. Browse N, Burnand KG, Mortimer PS (2003) Diseases of the Lymphatics. CRC Press, Boca Raton; FL 142–3
  10. Damstra R.J., Mortimer P.S. Diagnosis and therapy in children with lymphoedema. Phlebology. 2008;23(6):276-86.
  11. Quere I., Nagot N., Vikkula M. Incidence of Cellulitis among Children with Primary Lymphedema. N Engl J Med. 2018 May 24;378(21):2047-2048. article


  1. Kathy Xpence Kathy Xpence says:

    We live in a city of 350 000 and every doc we’ve seen has never seen a primary lymphodema case of one swollen leg. 3 years ago I took my daughter in to medical because I thought she injured herself falling on a knee skating. She was age 6. They checked her albumin measured it and even though it was low and her leg was 2cm different just shrugged their shoulders. Now after 3 years 2 ultrasounds and more should shrugs she ended up with cellulitis in hospital and finally we get a referral to the vascular specialist. I hope we can solve this mystery.

    • Lindsay Davey Lindsay Davey says:

      Hi Kathy,
      Thank you for your comments, and I’m sorry to hear of your daughter’s challenging course in trying to get a diagnosis. 3 years later, I am VERY glad that a vascular surgeon will be assessing her. Particularly with a recent history of cellulitis. I hope that the surgeon will provide valuable insights, and rule in/out other conditions to make things more clear diagnosis-wise. If it is indeed (or in part) lymphedema, I would highly recommend you find a CDT therapist/Vodder therapist to address the symptoms, advise on compression garments (for which there may be funding available, depending on where you live), and exercises that can help. Wishing you the very best Kathy, and for your daughter as well. Sincerely, Lindsay Davey

  2. Gabriela Gabriela says:

    Thanks for this very good and informative article. My son (11) has been diagnosed with Lymphedema 2.5 years ago and since then I try to read every bit of resource and information I can get my hands on… Luckily we’re in very good hands at the University Clinic in Zurich and we are able to provide him with all the garments and treatments he needs.
    He had Cellulitis once, which I only recently found out (no one knew what it was at that time…). We (or he) were very lucky! Now I’m prepared for almost everything and well informed.

    • Lindsay Davey Lindsay Davey says:

      Thank you Gabriela for your comment, and I’m glad to hear that it sounds like you have lots of resources in place to optimize your son’s condition and its management. Best wishes!

  3. Catherine Catherine says:

    This is a very informative review of paediatric lymphoedema. I am a GP in England but also have a daughter with lymphoedema.

  4. Kaleigh Kaleigh says:

    Thank you Im a sixth with Lymphedema and me and my mom have been looking for help

  5. Jeffrey Gan Jeffrey Gan says:

    Hi Lindsay, do you know of any pediatric lymphedema therapist in Australia? My newborn is suffering from a mild form of lymphedema due to amniotic band syndrome. We hope to seek help for pediatric lymphedema management. Thanks

    • Lindsay Davey Lindsay Davey says:

      Hello Jeff,
      Congratulations on the new baby! If Australia is anything like Canada (I can speak to Toronto, only), our paediatric experts for lymphedema are actually at Sick Kids, so I might suggest that you connect with your paediatric/children’s hospital to see if they have a list of private therapists who specialize in paeds lymphedema in the community (or whether they could see your newborn at their hospital as an outpatient?). The Vodder International website is another resource, as you can search by country/city, and could then reach out to individual certified therapists to ask if they treat paeds cases. I wish you the best of luck Jeff! Lindsay Davey

  6. Rochelle Jackson Rochelle Jackson says:

    Very informative read. My son is 13 months and we began noticing swelling in his left hand at around 6 months of age and was diagnosed with lymphedema at 9 months. 
    I myself have lymphedema and unfortunately passed it on to him.
    He goes for his second session with an Occupational Therapist tomorrow. She began with “massage therapy” of his lymph nodes and compression wraps.
    His OT is hopeful we can get the swelling to decrease so that he may be fitted for compression sleeves.  

  7. Irina Irina says:

    Hi Lindsay, thank you for all the information! Could you please advise a good specialized clinic in USA for my friends 14 year old son from Russia? 

    • Hello Irina,
      I’m sorry, I’m not aware of any specific clinics that I can recommend in the USA. If you check the LANA website or state-specific lymphedema association website I hope you will find what you’re looking for. Best wishes to your friend! Lindsay Davey

  8. Hope Campbell Hope Campbell says:

    Hello Lindsay,
    I’m a CDT therapist in Kingston, ON. A mom brought her 7 year old boy to our clinic for lower abdominal, pelvic and scrotal LE. I’m trying to find out what kind of compression I can use for someone this young and active. There is no coverage for LE in this area. Do you have any thoughts on what could be used. Not sure if you’re still active on this site but thought I would try. Thanks for your excellent resource on ped LE and your time.



    • Hello Hope,
      Thank you for reaching out. You can also reach me by email (listed on our website), as I check that more regularly. For such a case as this young boy, I would connect with an experienced fitter in your area, since they may be aware of how to navigate the ADP funding process in order to get coverage for a pelvic girdle style garment, as a special case? JOBST and Medi both make biker-style shorts with some compression, as well as ‘swell spots’ that can be used inside these in some garment models, as far as I know. This is the route I would take – and in the meantime, perhaps a compression style biker short (for athletics) could be used in conjunction with a swell spot, if a tailor could sew a pocket into them to hold a compressive pad in place inside them, and if the family could source a small enough pair (as an interim solution to the actual compression options that JOBST/Medi may be able to offer). I would be happy to connect you with the Medi rep for our area, as he is really experienced, comes from an athletics background, and is a lovely guy who I feel would be sympathetic to this young boy’s special needs. You can email me at if you’d like to connect further on that. I could also connect you with an experienced fitter in our area if you had further questions and didn’t feel the fitter you are currently working with is sure of how to proceed or of what options may be available. Wishing you a great day Hope! Lindsay

  9. Andrea Andrea says:

    Dear Dr.
    I have a 26 year old son who was born with lymph malformation, he has it on his cheek neck tongue and gums in his mouth.  He has had some successful surgeries where they were able to remove a lot, I know they will never get it all, Recently he has been having false ups every 10 weeks, not sure why, Would you know of any reason that triggers flare ups, any info I would truly appreciate, thanks Andrea

    • Hello Andrea,
      Thank you for your comment, and I’m sorry to hear of your son’s challenges with his lymphedema affecting his face, neck, and mouth regions. Did his surgery involve lymph node removal? Flare ups can occur for a variety of reasons – heat and humidity, other infections or viruses that challenge the lymphatic system, mouth sores/dental hygiene issues, and a variety of other reasons that could cause an overall swelling feature in the body, that may further challenge his drainage in his face and neck. I hope you continue to pursue options for him, facial compression may be something to consider during flareups, and self massage strokes if deemed appropriate for him. Best wishes Andrea, to you and your son. Sincerely, Lindsay Davey

  10. Darby Fraser Darby Fraser says:

    Hi there,

    My daughter, 5 years old, was boring with Lymphedema! It was present at birth. Both her legs were purple, and the skin was tough. When you help her best her legs you would leave indents.

    It took us 2.5 years to get diagnoses, as we use compression garments both daytime and nighttime (when she is willing). Aside from the daily struggles of getting her to wear compression, she struggles with physiological challenges she’s face with being different but we encourage her to be vulnerable and share with others why she’s different!

    This was a great article to read.

    We are for Regina, Saskatchewan!

    Thanks for taking the time to study this and share!


    • We can’t thank you enough for sharing your story Darby. It is always so helpful for our readership to hear stories of other families who may be dealing with primary lymphedema in a paediatric case as well. Wishing you the very best of luck with your daughter’s swelling management, and it’s wonderful that she will be an expert in educating others as well! Best wishes, Lindsay Davey

  11. carline bernard carline bernard says:

    Thank you for the information. My son is 14 years old and have multiple episodes of cellulitis on his legs. I am trying to find a solution for him. Please let me know if you have any information regarding CDT clinics in Brooklyn, NY. He just got discharges from the hospital yesterday.

  12. donna donna says:

    Good article-Children’s Hospitals that have Vascular Anomalies Centers usually have specialists familiar with lymphedema and the ability to evaluate and treat it. Even for adults. I work at one. Look for Vascular Anomaly Centers or Vascular Malformation Centers. If you look at the site there is a comprehensive list of a multidisciplinary teams all over the world.

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