Lymphedema Differential Diagnoses

Updated: Apr 18, 2023
  • Author: Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
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Diagnostic Considerations

The diagnosis is usually made with a thorough history and physical examination. Other causes of edema, such as edema secondary to congestive heart failure, renal insufficiency, hepatic insufficiency, or venous stasis disease, must be excluded. Malignancy must always be considered, particularly when patients report sudden onset, rapid progression, or associated pain. These symptoms may indicate direct tumor growth or metastatic disease in the regional lymph node basin.

Physicians should be aware of congenital lymphedema and recognize the condition's associated familial pattern. Extensive searching for a secondary cause for this condition could result in undue morbidity for the patient.

Conditions to consider in the differential diagnosis of lymphedema include the following:

  • Deep vein thrombosis

  • Hypoalbuminemia

  • Renal failure

  • Lipedema - A disease of adipose tissue that in nearly every case is found in obese women; it is manifested by abnormal depositions of subcutaneous fat associated with often mild edema; lipedema occurs from hip to ankle, usually sparing the feet [61]

  • Postoperative complications

  • Baker cyst

  • Idiopathic edema

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Idiopathic edema

  • Neurofibromatosis

  • Sclerema neonatorum

Differential Diagnoses