There are four types of acute lymphedema.
The first type of acute lymphedema is mild and lasts only a short time, occurring a few days after surgery to remove the lymph nodes or after injury to the lymphatic vessels or veins just under the collarbone. The affected limb may be warm and slightly red, but is usually not painful and gets better within a week by keeping the affected arm or leg supported in a raised position and by contracting the muscles in the affected limb (for example, making a fist and releasing it).
The second type of acute lymphedema occurs 6 to 8 weeks after surgery or during a course of radiation therapy. This type may be caused by inflammation of either lymphatic vessels or veins. The affected limb is tender, warm or hot, and red and is treated by keeping the limb supported in a raised position and taking anti-inflammatory drugs.
The third type of acute lymphedema occurs after an insect bite, minor injury, or burn that causes an infection of the skin and the lymphatic vessels near the skin surface. It may occur on an arm or leg that is chronically swollen. The affected area is red, very tender, and hot and is treated by supporting the affected arm or leg in a raised position and taking antibiotics A compression pump should not be used and the affected area should not be wrapped with elastic bandages during the early stages of infection. Mild redness may continue after the infection.
The fourth and most common type of acute lymphedema develops very slowly and may become noticeable 18 to 24 months after surgery or not until many years after cancer treatment. The patient may experience discomfort of the skin; aching in the neck, shoulders, spine, or hips caused by stretching of the soft tissues or overuse of muscles; or posture changes caused by increased weight of the arm or leg. Lymphedema PDQ
This is my own personal opinion, but from my experience in my own life as well as other lymphedema patients, I feel a fifth type of acute lymphedema needs to be recognized.
I have heard many lymphedema patients, share that they have an enormous amount of additional swelling in their affected limbs or that suddenly they are experiencing abdominal, or truncal that they have not experienced before.
In this situation it is paramount that additional medical test be undertaken to find out “why” this sudden change in edema.
If this acute phase involves the chest and/or lungs and the patient is experiencing difficulty in breathing, tests must be performed to ascertain whether or not there is a pleural effusion.
In this acute phase any treatment program must be customized to the exact situation of the patient. Additional treatment may include a thoracentesis and/or the short term use of diuretics.
See also: My Life With Lymphedema and Lymphoma