- Specialist Medicine
- Lymphedema has always been a neglected global health care problem. A central requirement for the development of any chronic disease is the clear use of public health definitions that can be used internationally to define populations. The term "lymphedema" has historically been defined as either primary, resulting from failure of lymphatic development, or secondary, following damage to the lymphatics (e.g., cancer treatment, injury, or filariasis). Attempts to integrate causes of edema arising from damage to the venous system or the effects of gravity, immobility, and systemic disease have rarely been integrated. More recently, the prominent role of the lymphatics in tissue fluid homeostasis in all forms of chronic edema has been recognized. These advances led to the development of the term: "Chronic edema: a broad term used to describe edema, which has been present for more than three months." It can be considered an umbrella term that includes not only conventional "lymphedema" but also chronic swelling, which may have a more complex cause. This definition has been adapted in the international epidemiology study (LIMPRINT) that identified people throughout the health and social care systems in participating countries. Clearer definitions will allow for examination of this important public health problem that is likely to escalate given the projections of an aging population with multiple comorbidities. It will be possible to define both the hidden mortality and morbidity associated with complications, such as cellulitis and the impact on health-related quality of life. This evidence is urgently required to lobby for increased resource and effective health care in an increasingly competitive health care arena in which more established conditions have greater priority and funding.