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Can Liposuction Help Lymphoedema?

Can liposuction help treat the signs of lymphoedema, and why does it occur in the first place?

Tagged: Weight Loss

Author: Mr. Bryan Mayou, MB ChB FRCS

Date: 16th February 2023

Medically Reviewed by:  Mr. Bryan Mayou (GMC: 1414396)

Last reviewed: 20th February 2024

When excess fat tissue develops as a result of Lymphoedema, Liposuction is a treatment that tackles the condition's long-term effects. Read on to learn more about Lymphoedema, and whether Liposuction is the right treatment for you.  

What is Lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is a chronic disorder that results in tissue swelling due to a build-up of protein-rich fluid, called lymph, which is discharged through the lymphatic system of the body. Although it typically affects the arms or legs, it can also happen in the chest wall, abdomen, neck, or genitalia.

Severe Lymphoedema can impair motion in the affected limb, raise the risk of sepsis and skin infections, and cause skin abnormalities and disintegration. 

What Causes Lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema is caused by a malfunction of the lymphatic system. This is a system of arteries and glands found all over the body. Its function is to remove excess fluid from tissues and fight infection (this is why your Lymph nodes swell when you are unwell).

Lymphoedema may result from the lymphatic system developing improperly, being damaged, or having more fluid than normal in the bodily tissues.

Lymphoedema comes in two forms:

  • Primary Lymphoedema - This is caused by genetic defects that interfere with the lymphatic system's development; it can appear at any age, but commonly does so in adolescence. 
  • Secondary Lymphoedema - Often caused by damage to the lymphatic system or issues with fluid transport and drainage within the lymphatic system, frequently as a result of an infection, accident, cancer therapy, limb inflammation, or a lack of limb mobility. 

Who is at Risk of Developing Lymphoedema?

Depending on whether Lymphoedema is primary or secondary, different risk factors apply.

Primary Lymphoedema runs in families. It occurs when the genes involved in the lymphatic system's development have flaws, which prevent it from properly draining fluid. Having close family members who suffer from Primary Lymphoedema is the biggest risk factor.

Secondary Lymphoedema develops as a result of another lymphatic system disorder. Risk factors include: 

Muscle activity encourages the passage of fluid along the lymphatic vessels, which aids in lymphatic drainage. Reduced mobility can therefore increase the likelihood of Lymphoedema. People may be at risk of developing Lymphoedema if they have prolonged periods of decreased motion, such as from illness, nerve damage, or arthritis.

In some instances, severe bruising and soft tissue injuries can raise the risk of Lymphoedema. Burns, crush injuries, or other types of trauma can all cause Lymphoedema to occur.

  • Cancer surgery: To prevent the spread of cancer, surgeons will occasionally remove lymph nodes, which are a component of the lymphatic system. This raises the possibility that lymph won't drain appropriately, leading to Lymphoedema. Surgery to remove lymph nodes may be part of the course of treatment for diseases such as breast cancer, skin cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer. 
  • Radiation treatment: Radiation is used in this cancer treatment to kill cancer cells. The lymphatic system, among other healthy tissues, may also be harmed, losing its ability to discharge fluid. 
  • Tumours: Sometimes, a lymphatic channel is blocked by a malignant tumour, causing fluid to accumulate. 

The risk of Lymphedema can increase in situations that alter the veins' ability to carry blood. Fluid may overflow into the tissue spaces through unhealthy veins. This eventually exhausts the lymphatic system's components in charge of fluid drainage.

A bacterial skin infection called cellulitis can raise your chance of developing Lymphoedema. Damage to the tissue surrounding the lymphatic system may result from severe cellulitis. Scarring and poor drainage result from this. Lymphoedema can also be brought on by a parasite infection called filariasis. Thread-like worms live in the lymphatic system of filariasis patients and obstruct lymphatic drainage. 

Lymphedema risk can be increased by illnesses like arthritis and other conditions that result in chronic inflammation. Inflammation has the potential to damage or even destroy components of the lymphatic system.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema's primary symptom is swelling, which can make it difficult to fit into clothing or cause jewellery and watches to feel constrictive. Lymphoedema can affect one or more limbs or other parts of the body. This may lead to self-consciousness or a drop in confidence.

The swelling may first come and go. It could deteriorate during the day before improving at night. Without therapy, it typically gets worse and persists longer.

Additional symptoms of Lymphoedema include:

  • A painful, heavy sensation 
  • Difficulty moving the affected area 
  • The skin feeling tight and brittle 
  • Skin folds beginning to form 
  • Fluid leaking through the skin 
  • Persistent or continual skin infections 

How is Lymphoedema Treated?

There are a number of treatments for Lymphoedema depending on the extent of the condition and the areas that it is affecting. These treatments typically focus on reducing swelling, improving lymphatic drainage and preventing complications:

  • Lymphatic Drainage Massage – This is a specialist massage technique which stimulates the flow of lymphatic fluid throughout the body. It is carried out by specialist therapists and helps to treat minor Lymphoedema. 
  • Compression Therapy – Specialist garments, bandages or devices place compression on the affected area to reduce swelling and promote lymphatic drainage. 
  • Medication – Medication such as antibiotics or diuretics may help to treat Lymphoedema depending on the cause. 
  • Surgery - In severe cases of Lymphedema that have not responded to other treatments, Lymphoedema surgery such as Lymphaticovenous Anastomosis (LVA) or Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer (VLNT) may help to improve lymphatic drainage and reduce swelling. Liposuction can also be used to remove excess fat build up. 

How is Lymphoedema Treated with Liposuction?

When lymphatic fluid leaks into the tissues around the body, it can lead to inflammation and encourage the growth of fat stem cells. The additional fat that Lymphoedema has produced is removed by your surgeon using Liposuction.

Liposuction is an effective treatment for Lymphoedema, especially in cases where other treatments such as compression therapy or physical therapy have not produced the desired results. Your surgeon will recommend trying other treatments for Lymphoedema before trying Liposuction. Liposuction for Lymphoedema can improve mobility and physical comfort.

Lymphoedema Liposuction involves your surgeon making small incisions in the areas of the body that are being treated. Liposuction can treat Lymphoedema in legs, arms and abdomen. They then insert a tube called a cannula, before the excess fat is broken up using physical motion, pressurised water, or laser. The broken down fat is then extracted through the tube and the incisions are stitched up.  

Depending on the extent of the surgery, recovery from Liposuction is usually between 4-6 weeks. Your surgeon will have concealed your incisions in discreet locations, meaning your scarring will be minimal. During your recovery, you will need to wear compression garments to prevent swelling and to protect the surgical area. You will also need to avoid any strenuous activity and heavy lifting for up to 6 weeks. Lymphoedema can return following Liposuction, especially if the underlying causes of the condition are not treated. 

Are There Any Lifestyle Changes That Can Help to Manage Lymphoedema?

A healthy lifestyle can both lower your chance of developing Lymphoedema and help you manage the condition if you currently have it.

This includes:

Eating a balanced, nutritious diet 

A balanced, healthy diet helps to manage Lymphoedema by:

  • Reducing inflammation – As Lymphoedema is an inflammation driven condition, it is important to keep inflammation to a minimum. A diet high in sugar, salt and alcohol is more likely to promote inflammation throughout the body. Instead fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and lean protein will help to reduce and manage inflammation. 
  • Managing sodium intake – Excess sodium (found in salt) can contribute to fluid retention, increasing swelling. Reducing the amount of sodium, especially through salt levels in your diet can help to limit and reduce the amount of swelling you experience. 
  • Staying hydrated – Adequate hydration helps your body to not hold on to excess fluid. Drinking plenty of water will help to promote the movement of lymphatic fluid around the body.


Exercising regularly

Regular exercise will help to treat and manage Lymphoedema by:

  • Promoting lymphatic circulation – Movement encourages the movement of lymphatic fluid throughout the body. This will help to reduce swelling and improve lymphatic drainage 
  • Improving muscle strength and flexibility – Strong muscles are more effective at supporting the lymphatic system, allowing for the movement of lymphatic fluid throughout the body 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight – Along with a balanced diet, exercise will also help with maintaining a healthy and stable weight. Excess weight can exacerabate Lymphoedema by putting additional strain on the lymphatic system. 

Cadogan Clinic is a private clinic offering Lymphoedema treatment, through Liposuction and our surgeons are leading experts in their respective fields. If you’re considering undertaking any of the procedures mentioned, get in touch with us today for a consultation with an experienced surgeon.  

Words From Our Founder

Mr. Bryan Mayou

Liposuction has emerged as a valuable tool in the treatment of Lymphoedema, a condition that can cause significant discomfort for patients. Liposuction has shown promising results in reducing swelling and improving symptoms associated with Lymphoedema. Having introduced Liposuction to the UK 40 years ago, I am pleased to see its evolving role in addressing conditions that impact the lives of so many individuals. Our commitment remains to provide innovative solutions and personalized care to help patients find relief and enhance their quality of life.
Mr. Bryan Mayou

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