Primary lymphoedema

Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2021 Oct 21;7(1):77. doi: 10.1038/s41572-021-00309-7.


Lymphoedema is the swelling of one or several parts of the body owing to lymph accumulation in the extracellular space. It is often chronic, worsens if untreated, predisposes to infections and causes an important reduction in quality of life. Primary lymphoedema (PLE) is thought to result from abnormal development and/or functioning of the lymphatic system, can present in isolation or as part of a syndrome, and can be present at birth or develop later in life. Mutations in numerous genes involved in the initial formation of lymphatic vessels (including valves) as well as in the growth and expansion of the lymphatic system and associated pathways have been identified in syndromic and non-syndromic forms of PLE. Thus, the current hypothesis is that most cases of PLE have a genetic origin, although a causative mutation is identified in only about one-third of affected individuals. Diagnosis relies on clinical presentation, imaging of the structure and functionality of the lymphatics, and in genetic analyses. Management aims at reducing or preventing swelling by compression therapy (with manual drainage, exercise and compressive garments) and, in carefully selected cases, by various surgical techniques. Individuals with PLE often have a reduced quality of life owing to the psychosocial and lifelong management burden associated with their chronic condition. Improved understanding of the underlying genetic origins of PLE will translate into more accurate diagnosis and prognosis and personalized treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drainage
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lymphedema* / etiology
  • Lymphedema* / genetics
  • Quality of Life*