Understanding Lymphedema

By editor
November 15, 2015

If you’ve heard of lymphedema, you may know that it’s a condition in which you certain areas of your body—usually a limb (arm or leg) swells. The swelling is caused by fluids that accumulate when the lymphatic system (part of your body’s immune system) stops working properly.

When the lymphatic system is up and running as it should, it keeps fluid lymph fluid circulating through the blood and into surrounding tissue. When the lymphatic system is damaged, however (more on reasons for that damage later), it can’t clear lymph fluid as quickly as it’s produced and it builds up in the body’s tissues.

There are two types of lymphedema: primary and congenital. The way that lymphedema develops determines it’s category. Primary lymphedema is the result of developmental abnormalities of the lymphatic system and are almost always considered to be genetic or inherited. Secondary lymphedema is by definition caused by injury or another disease which alters either lymphatic production or elimination.

Lymphedema treatmentCauses of Lymphedema (primary and secondary):

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) (secondary)
  • Genetic disorders (primary)
  • Injury (secondary)
  • Infection (secondary)
  • Surgery that affects the lymph nodes (secondary)
  • Radiation therapy (secondary)
  • Cancer (secondary)
  • Obesity (secondary)

Signs of Lymphedema (usually occurring in arms and legs):

  • Swelling, possibly including fingers or toes
  • Aching or discomfort
  • A full or heavy sensation
  • Restricted range of movement
  • Tight or shiny skin
  • Lack of indentation in the skin when pressed
  • Hardening and thickening of the skin
  • Small warts or blisters that leak clear fluid
  • Recurring infections
  • Tighter-fitting rings and watches

Treatment:
Lymphedema can’t be entirely cured, but it can be treated so that symptoms are reduced. Treatment for both primary and secondary lymphedema focuses on reducing swelling and controlling pain. Therapies include compression in the form of garments, wraps, or pumps; exercise to gently contract muscles in the affected limb; and massage therapy to help drain lymph fluid. Surgeries to help manage lymphedema are also being developed and performed by some experts.

Contact us today with your questions and concerns about lymphedema.

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