What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a lifelong and progressive inflammatory disease caused by a dysfunction in the lymphatic system. As a result, lymphatic fluid (lymph) accumulates in the body, leading to chronic swelling.
Lymphedema occurs most frequently in the legs and arms, but can occur anywhere in the body. Lymphedema cannot be treated with medications, it must be managed by following a specialized treatment program.
The Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is made up of a network of lymphatic vessels, lymphoid organs, and lymph nodes that are spread throughout the body.
Lymphatic vessels collect lymph fluid and filter, concentrate, and drain it back into the circulatory system. Lymph fluid contains cells (lymphocytes) that fight infection, remove cellular waste products, and transport proteins and digested fats.
What Causes Lymphedema
Lymphedema can occur when lymphatic vessels or nodes are dysfunctional and/or have been damaged, destroyed, or removed.
Types of Lymphedema
Primary Lymphedema develops due to a genetic predisposition to a faulty lymphatic system. It can appear at birth or develop later in life.
Secondary Lymphedema is typically caused by surgery, radiation, infection, obesity, or trauma that damages the lymphatic system.
Signs or symptoms of lymphedema may include:
- Swelling in limb or other body part
- Sensations of heaviness, fullness, or tightness
- Clothing may feel tighter
- Development of pain, aching, tingling, or decreased mobility
- Sensation of heat or skin redness (if you experience this, consult your doctor immediately
There are two treatment phases for lymphedema: Reduction and Maintenance.
Reduction Therapy usually includes the following:
- Compression wrapping/bandaging
- Specialized Massage called MLD(Manual Lymphatic Drainage)
- Moderate Exercise
- Excellent Skin Care
Is ongoing to prevent lymphedema from getting worse and to decrease the chance of complications. Maintenance includes day and/or nighttime compression garments, manual lymph drainage, continued exercise, and excellent skin care.
TREATMENT FOR LYMPHEDEMA MUST BE PERFORMED BY A CERTIFIED LYMPHEDEMA THERAPIST.
Lymphedema patients are at increased risk of developing infection (particularly cellulitis) in the affected area.
If possible, AVOID exposing your affected limb/region to: injections, blood draws, blood pressure readings, acupuncture, extremes of heat or cold, tight clothing, and overexertion.