00  BC Lymphedema Association

Diagnosis Assessment & Monitoring


The diagnosis or early detection of lymphedema is difficult. The first signs may be subjective observations such as "my arm feels heavy" or "I have difficulty these days getting rings on and off my fingers". These may be symptomatic of early stage (stage 0) lymphedema, where accumulation of lymph is mild and not detectable by any difference in arm volume or circumference.


As lymphedema develops further, then definitive diagnosis is commonly based upon an objective measurement of difference between the affected or at-risk limb to the opposite unaffected limb (e.g. in volume or circumference). A generally accepted minimum criteria is a volume of difference of 100 ml between limbs or a 2 cm difference (measured at set intervals along the limb) is often used.


Recently, the technique of bioimpedance spectroscopy measurement (a method that measures the amount of fluid in a limb) has been shown to have greater sensitivity than these existing methods and holds promise as a simple diagnostic and screening tool. Impedance analyzers specifically designed for this purpose are now commercially available. Similarly, assessment and monitoring of lymphedema progression, or its response to treatment, is usually based on the changes in volume, circumference, or impedance over time.

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