- Stage 1 (mild) – Upon walking in the morning the limb of the affected area is almost normal size. The tissue is still in a “pitting stage” (when pressed by a finger the area indents and holds the indentation).
- Stage 2 – The tissue is “non-pitting” (when pressed by a finger the tissue bounces back without leaving an indentation). The tissue has a spongy consistency.
- Stage 3 – The tissue at this stage can be hard (fibrotic) and will be unresponsive to the touch. The swelling is irreversible and the limb is very large and swollen. Infections are possible at any stage of lymphedema, however, the occurrence becomes greater as stages progress.
A swollen limb left untreated becomes hard (fibrotic) and full of lymph fluid which is viscous and high in protein. Patients associate the feeling of “limb heaviness” to a wet sponge. This accumulation of fluid creates a perfect medium for bacteria growth to cause infections that can further worsen a lymphedematous condition.