Lymphedema and Venous Edema

Contact Information

University Hospital: (608) 263-8060

1 S. Park: (608) 890-6110

UW Health at The American Center: (608) 440-6440

Yahara Clinic: (608) 890-6110


Health Information


Lymphedema patient being treated by a member of UW Health's lymphedema team; Madison, WisconsinThe UW Health lymphedema and venous edema team in Madison, Wisconsin is comprised of occupational and physical therapists who have advanced training in the treatment of lymphedema and venous edema.

How can a patient access lymphedema and venous edema services at UW Health?

A patient must have a written physician prescription/consult for occupational therapy/physical therapy. The prescription can be mailed or faxed to any of the locations listed above. Once we receive the referral, we will call the patient to schedule an appointment.

What is lymphedema?

The International Society of Lymphology defines lymphedema as an abnormal collection of excessive tissue proteins, edema, chronic inflammation and fibrosis.

Who gets lymphedema?

Hand affected by lymphedema; UW Health - Madison, WisconsinMillions of people throughout the world have lymphedema. It can be congenital (primary lymphedema) - presenting at birth, puberty or mid-life. It can also occur as the result of cancer surgery and/or radiation (secondary lymphedema).
Most people with impaired lymphatic systems spontaneously develop new pathways to move fluid and do not get lymphedema. However, lymphedema can develop months or years after surgery/radiation. It is usually triggered by a new injury or trauma to the area.
Lymphedema is progressive and if left untreated, may develop into irreversible fibrosis (hardening of the tissue), chronic infection or loss of limb function.
There is no cure for lymphedema but with proper treatment, it can be managed successfully. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent the disease from progressing.

What are the symptoms of lymphedema?

Symptoms of lymphedema include:
  • Heaviness or pain in an arm or leg
  • Long lasting swelling in the arm, leg or breast following radiation or surgery
  • Decreased range of motion in the affected limb
  • Hardening and/or discoloration of the skin in the affected area

What does lymphedema treatment involve?


Lymphedema treatment at UW Health includes:

  • Specialized gentle massage to reroute and move fluid
  • Exercise programs 
  • Compression bandages 
  • Edema control garments 
  • Wound and skin care 
  • Adaptation of activities of daily living 
  • Training on how to follow precautions and use life-long self-management techniques

What is venous edema?


Venous edema is also known as chronic venous insufficiency. It is a disease of the veins that spreads to the lymphatics due to chronic leakage of venous fluid into the tissues which then compromises lymphatic function. Venous edema is not the same as lymphedema, but has many of the same characteristics and is often treated similarly.


What should I do if I have lymphedema or venous edema?

  • Lymphedema patient being treated by a member of UW Health's lymphedema team; Madison, WisconsinAvoid constrictive jewelry such as rings, watches, ankle bracelets, etc. or wear them on the uninvolved arm/leg
  • Have your blood pressure checked, blood drawn, or get injections in the uninvolved limb
  • Wear sunscreen and insect repellent on the involved leg/arm
  • Move around periodically when traveling by air to promote circulation
  • When on road trips, stop the car every few hours and walk around to promote circulation
  • Refrain from using heat on the involved limb, which could cause increased swelling
  • Limit use of hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms
  • Wear a compression garment when traveling by air to accommodate for air pressure changes on the involved limb
  • Perform daily skin checks to avoid/treat any sign of infection
  • Avoid excessive intake of sodium or caffeine
  • Try to increase your water consumption
  • Use lotion to prevent skin from cracking, and keep your skin very clean
  • Wear loose clothing on the involved limb. Avoid sleeves and pant legs with tight elastic at the wrist or ankle, and socks with tight elastic at the top.
  • Use caution when manicuring nails in order to decrease the risk of infection
  • Immediately treat any scrape or abrasion on the involved limb
  • Use an electric shaver for hair removal
  • Use a fanny pack or wear a shoulder bag on the uninvolved shoulder if you have edema in the arm
  • If you have arm swelling, wear long oven mitts when using the oven or stove
  • For upper limb edema, wear gloves when gardening, and long pants or use knees pads if you have lower limb edema
  • Avoid overuse of the arm by using two arms for carrying or carry items with the uninvolved arm