Chronic oedema made easy. 2012. (accessed 18 February 2019)

Carpentier P, Maricq H, Biro C, Ponçot-Makinen C, Franco A. Prevalence, risk factors, and clinical patterns of chronic venous disorders of lower limbs: a population-based study in France. J Vasc Surg.. 2004; 40:(4)650-659

Cox N. Oedema as a risk factor for multiple episodes of cellulitis/erysipelas of the lower leg: a series with community follow-up. Br J Dermatol.. 2006; 155:(5)947-950

Criqui M, Denenberg J, Bergan J, Langer R, Fronek A. Risk factors for chronic venous disease: the San Diego Population Study. J Vasc Surg.. 2007; 46:(2)331-337

DiSipio T, Rye S, Newman B, Hayes S. Incidence of unilateral arm lymphoedema after breast cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Oncol.. 2013; 14:(6)500-515

Gillespie T, Sayegh H, Brunelle C, Daniell K, Taghian A. Breast cancer-related lymphedema: risk factors, precautionary measures, and treatments. Gland Surg.. 2018; 7:(4)379-403

Lohr J, Bush R. Venous disease in women: epidemiology, manifestations, and treatment. J Vasc Surg.. 2013; 57:37S-45S

O'Malley E, Ahern T, Dunlevy C, Lehane C, Kirby B, O'Shea D. Obesity-related chronic lymphoedema-like swelling and physical function. QJM. 2015; 108:(3)183-187

Links between BMI and the increasing incidence/prevalence of chronic oedema: what is our future?. 2016. (accessed 18 February 2019)

Purushotham A, Bennett Britton T, Klevesath M, Chou P, Agbaje OF, Duffy SW Ann Surg.. 2007; 246:(1)42-45

Sackey H, Magnuson A, Sandelin K Arm lymphoedema after axillary surgery in women with invasive breast cancer. Br J Surg.. 2014; 101:(4)390-397

Shaitelman S, Cromwell K, Rasmussen J Recent progress in cancer-related lymphedema treatment and prevention. CA Cancer J Clin.. 2015; 65:(1)55-81

Lymphatic cording or axillary web syndrome after breast cancer surgery. 2009. (accessed 18 February 2019)

Toyserkani N, Jørgensen M, Haugaard K, Sørensen J. Seroma indicates increased risk of lymphedema following breast cancer treatment: a retrospective cohort study. Breast. 2017; 32:102-104

Wariss B, Costa R, Pereira A, Koifman R, Bergmann A. Axillary web syndrome is not a risk factor for lymphoedema after 10 years of follow-up. Support Care Cancer. 2017; 25:(2)465-470

Warren L, Miller C, Horick N The impact of radiation therapy on the risk of lymphedema after treatment for breast cancer: a prospective cohort study. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys.. 2014; 88:(3)565-571

Risk factors for the development of oedema and lymphoedema

28 February 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 4


An important symptom of ill health in clinical medicine is the development of oedema, which represents an imbalance in the amount of fluid entering and leaving the tissues of the body. Although medical treatment for the underlying cause of oedema is required, in both cancer and non-cancer settings risk factors that may increase or decrease the potential for oedema to develop or worsen can be identified. For the patient who has risk factors for the development of oedema, advice and education can enable the risk to be modified. Reducing the risk of oedema formation will help avoid long-term problematic oedema and complex skin conditions, as well as maintaining the patient's quality of life. This article discusses some of the risk factors for oedema and lymphoedema and concludes with an outline of how the risk can be managed.

The development of oedema can be distressing for patients and affect their quality of life. The most frequent presentation of chronic oedema is in the lower limbs, which results in problems with mobility, clothing and footwear. If oedema of any kind remains untreated, stasis of fluid in the tissues of the body will place the patient at risk of complex skin conditions and cellulitis (Cox, 2006).

The causes of oedema can be cancer or non-cancer-related: these are illustrated in Table 1.

The appearance of oedema is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. The cause is therefore associated with the patient's medical diagnosis or, in the case of cancer-related lymphoedema, treatment that has already been completed to lymph node areas. The risk of oedema developing is usually a matter of chance and is not a certainty, but there are identifiable factors that can help reduce the risk of it developing. It may be possible to modify these factors, leading to a better outcome for the patient.

Register now to continue reading

Thank you for visiting British Journal of Nursing and reading some of our peer-reviewed resources for nurses. To read more, please register today. You’ll enjoy the following great benefits:

What's included

  • Limited access to clinical or professional articles

  • Unlimited access to the latest news, blogs and video content