Lymphoedema is a long-term (chronic) condition that causes swelling in the body's tissues. It can affect any part of the body, but usually develops in the arms or legs.
It develops when the lymphatic system does not work properly. The lymphatic system is a network of channels and glands throughout the body that helps fight infection and remove excess fluid.
It's important that lymphoedema is identified and treated as soon as possible. If it is not treated, it can get worse.
About lymphoedema and lipoedema
What is lymphoedema?
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and glands, forming part of your immune system but is also responsible for helping to maintain the balance of fluid within your body, by draining excess fluid from the tissues. When the lymphatic system is not working correctly fluid builds up within the tissues and causes the affected area to swell, this is called lymphoedema. It can affect any part of the body but is most commonly seen in an arm or a leg.
There are two types of lymphoedema: primary or secondary. Primary lymphoedema is due to a defect within the lymphatic system, present since birth but can develop without obvious cause at different stages of life, usually up to early adulthood. Secondary lymphoedema is damage caused to the lymphatic system, for example through; trauma, infection, reduced mobility, cancer and some cancer treatments.
What is lipoedema?
Lipoedema is the abnormal buildup of fat cells in the legs, thighs and buttocks, with occasional arm involvement but excludes the hands and feet. The cause is not known but is considered an inherited condition, as in 50% of cases there is a family history, almost exclusively affecting women. It tends to start at puberty or times of hormonal change and develops gradually. A person with lipoedema may eventually develop lymphoedema if the fat cells prevent drainage of the lymph fluid.
The Lymphoedema has been serving the population of North Devon and North Cornwall since 2006. This is a nurse led service comprising of two full time specialist practitioners with part time admin support. The service is provided Monday to Thursday during the hours of 08:00 hours and 17:00 hours and Friday 08:00-13:30, with appointments held at Barnstaple Health Centre. The team provides advice, support and development opportunities to other professionals: North Devon District Hospital, Community hospitals, Community Nurses, Practice Nurses, North Devon Hospice and Care Homes to enable on-going care of patients. Referrals are welcomed from a variety of Health Care Professionals for primary and secondary cancer and non-cancer related lymphoedema and lipoedema. Referrals can be made via EPIC, BOB electronically or in writing. The service aim is to provide evidence based, high quality, best practice for people with these two long-term conditions, in line with local, national and international guidelines.
A holistic assessment will be undertaken by one of the Specialist Practitioners and a joint management plan regarding treatment will be made on clinical need.
How do I access the service?
Patients are referred to the service by other healthcare professionals including GPs, Practice Nurses, Community Nurses, North Devon District Hospital and North Devon Hospice, using the referral criteria found on the hospital intranet or in writing.
Meet the team
- Georgina Martin, Macmillan Lymphoedema CNS and Service Lead
- Angela Ives, Macmillan Lymphoedema Specialist practitioner
- Laura Morris, Administrator
- Kim Craze, Administrator
The Eastern Lymphoedema team serves the population of Exeter and East Devon. This is a nurse-led service comprising of two part-time clinical nurse specialists with part-time admin support.
This is an outpatient service only, with appointments held at the Heavitree Hospital site in Exeter.
The team also provides advice and support to other professionals within primary care and the community.
This is a cancer service and referrals are welcomed from Health Care Professionals for cancer-related secondary lymphoedema. However, we also accept referrals for primary (genetic) lymphoedema and lipoedema.
For non-cancer-related lymphoedema, we offer advice and guidance.
How do I access the service?
Referrals can be made via EPIC or via the GP e-referral system. For patients out of the area, please request a referral to the Lymphoedema service for your locality.
How do I contact the team?
Telephone: (01392) 405655 (answerphone available)
Health Professionals: via EPIC or generic email
Services and treatments
The aim of this service is to provide evidence-based, high-quality, best practices in line with local, national and international guidelines.
A face-to-face holistic assessment will be undertaken to determine a patient-centred decongestive management plan by one of the Clinical Nurse specialists based on clinical need.
British Lymphology Society
9 – 11 Oldbury Road
Tel: 01242 695077
Fax: 01242 695125
For the consensus document on the management of Cellulitis in Lymphoedema go to:
Click on ‘Home’ – Scroll to bottom of the page -Click on ‘BLS Consensus’
Lymphoedema Support Network
St Lukes Crypt
Tel Information and Support 020 7351 4480
Tel Admin 020 7351 0990
Fax 020 7349 9809
Macmillan Cancer Support
890 Albert Embankment
Cancer line: 0808 808 2020