Lymphedema is swelling in one or both arms or legs. It usually occurs after a damage has been done to the lymph, or after a removal of the lymph that are usually parts of cancer treatments. It appears when a blockage in the lymphatic system forms. Thus, lymph fluid is prevented from draining so the fluid accumulates and results in swelling. There is no cure for this condition, but early diagnosis and attentive care can help the affected limb to recover.
Symptoms that will appear in the affected arm or leg can be:
- Swelling in part or all arm or leg along with the fingers and toes
- A feeling of stiffness and heaviness
- Hard and thick skin
- Limited possibility of motion
- Infections that reoccur
The swelling can vary from mild and barely noticeable to extreme and visible changes in the arm or leg size what makes the limb hard to use.
It is good a person to see a doctor if there is a consistent swelling in some part of the arms or legs.
The lymphatic system is essential for having a healthy body. Through this system lymph fluid that is rich in protein circulates through the body and collects bacteria, viruses and waste products. The fluid and harmful substances are carried to the lymph nodes by the lymph vessels. In the lymph nodes there are lymphocytes which are made of cells that fight infections that filter the harmful substances and eventually flush out the waste from the body.
Lymphedema appears when lymph vessels are not able to drain the lymph fluid properly. There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary. Primary lymphedema occurs on its own, and the secondary is caused by another medical condition or disease. The secondary one is more common.
Secondary lymphedema can happen due to surgery, radiation treatment or cancer, as well as any other procedure or condition that can damage the lymph nodes or vessels.
Primary lymphedema don’t happen often. It is usually inherited condition. It is caused by abnormal formation of lymph nodes and vessels. The specific causes are: Milroy’s disease (during infancy), Meige’s disease (during puberty or pregnancy) and late-onset lymphedema (after the age of 35)
A person is at greater risk of developing lymphedema after a cancer, or cancer treatment, as well as if he/she is at older age, overweighed or has rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis.
Lymphedema can result in serious infections, such as bacterial infection of the skin or infection of the lymph vessels, or lymphangiosarcoma-a rare form of soft tissue cancer.
No cure exist for lymphedema. That is why the treatments will focus on diminishing the swelling and pain control.
Lymphedema treatment suggestions are:
- Light exercise moving the affected limb
- Bandaging the affected limb
- Wearing compressing garments
- CDT-a complete decongestive therapy
The risk of developing lymphedema maybe smaller, if a person:
- Protects the arms and legs from sharp objects or possible injuries
- Rests the arms or legs especially if he/she have undergo a surgery or treatment of any kind
- Avoids warmth and heat
- Elevates the affected arms or legs i.e. the affected lib over the heart level
- Keep the arms and legs clean