Lymphedema is swelling throughout your body caused by a problem with your lymphatic system. Extra fluid, proteins, and toxins are drawn out of your cells and tissues by your lymphatic system and returned to your bloodstream.
When your lymphatic system isn’t functioning properly, your body may start to fill up with fluid and bloat. Although it can affect other parts of your body as well, the swelling mainly affects your arms and legs. Where you have lymphedema, your chance of getting an infection is also increased.
This may occur following particular procedures, as a result of specific medical disorders, or due to inherited traits. Lymphedema can manifest spontaneously, which means there is no recognized cause.
Mild lymphedema symptoms could result in a little swelling and discomfort. However, lymphedema can occasionally result in substantial swelling that is uncomfortable and can lead to skin problems including infections and sores. Although there is no known cure for lymphedema, medical professionals can treat the swelling and pain it causes. You can take a variety of actions to lessen the potential negative effects lymphedema may have on your quality of life.
How does my body respond to lymphedema?
Your arms, legs, feet, and other parts of your body may seem and feel swollen if you have lymphedema. Lymphedema can cause discomfort and impair your ability to carry out regular tasks. Many lymphedema patients are embarrassed by how their look is altered by the condition.
Is lymphedema a dangerous illness?
It is possible. You might be more likely to get skin-originating infections if you have lymphedema. These infections could be lethal. Rarely, an extremely uncommon skin cancer called lymphangiosarcoma can develop as a result of lymphedema.
Exists a spectrum of lymphedema types?
Yes, primary and secondary lymphedema are the two different types.
Primary lymphedema: What is it?
Rare hereditary diseases that have an impact on the growth of your lymphatic system are the cause of primary lymphedema. In the United States, one in 100,000 people suffer from primary lymphedema. Certain ages are when these conditions can cause lymphedema:
Infants may have Milroy’s illness, a hereditary kind of lymphedema, at birth.
adolescence, being pregnant, or up to age 35 Up until age 35, Meige’s disease (lymphedema praecox) can afflict people going through adolescence or during pregnancy.
when over 35: Lymphedema tarda, a rare late-onset lymphedema, can result in lymphedema with swelling confined to your legs.
Secondary lymphedema: What is it?
If your lymphatic system is harmed as a result of surgery, trauma, or radiation therapy, you could develop secondary lymphedema. The majority of persons with lymphedema have undergone treatment for breast cancer. Having said that, lymphedema may not always result from breast cancer treatment.
Is cancer a type of lymphedema?
It’s not a type of cancer, no.
SIGNIFICANCE AND CAUSES
What signs of lymphedema are there?
The most typical sign is edema. Slow swelling may occur. Early on in lymphedema, you might not notice unusual swelling. Lymphedema swelling might also appear suddenly. Other signs of lymphedema you could experience include:
In your hands and feet, there are veins and tendons that you cannot see or feel.
You seem to have slightly larger arms or legs.
Your joints appear to be unusually stiff or rigid.
Your skin appears swollen or red.
Your limbs, legs, or other parts of your body may swell.
Your legs, limbs, or other body parts may feel heavy or bloated.
Your jewelry or clothing may fit more snugly than usual.
You have a burning or itchy sensation.
Your skin thickens noticeably.
Why does lymphedema develop?
Lymphedema may result from a number of factors, such as:
Surgery for breast cancer: Some breast cancer surgeries involve removing the lymph nodes under your arms, which may cause damage to the adjacent lymph veins.
Lymphedema may result from pelvic surgery to remove lymph nodes.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy can inflame your skin and put strain on your lymphatic circulation system. It can also leave scars and harm your lymphatic system.
Trauma: Your lymphatic system is a complex web of vessels that are both deep and under your skin. Lymphedema can occasionally result from trauma to a body part that damages the lymphatic veins under the skin.
Infection: An infection may worsen damage to the lymphatic system.
Obesity: Obese individuals may have extra fat (adipose tissue) that strains lymph nodes and blood arteries. Lymphatic drainage could be impacted by that added strain.
Inactivity: The muscles in your legs stimulate lymphatic circulation. Leg edema could develop if you don’t exercise.
Cancer: Cancer cells can obstruct lymphatic outflow.
Heart diseases: Lymphedema can develop in people with heart disorders, notably congestive heart failure. Your lymphatic channels return lymph to your heart for disposal. You might notice that you’re gaining weight or that your legs are swollen if your heart isn’t functioning as it should.
Blood vessel problems: Your blood vessels transport 80% to 90% of the fluid in your body. You may experience persistent blood vessel problems if something damages your blood vessels (vascular system). Lymphedema may be caused by persistent blood vessel problems.
Kidney disease: Your kidneys clean your body of excess fluid and waste products. Your body can have problems eliminating fluid if your kidneys aren’t functioning properly. Fluid retention may result in swelling and lymphedema.
TESTS AND DIAGNOSIS
How are medical professionals able to identify lymphedema?
Your healthcare provider may perform a number of tests on you if you have swelling that may be caused by lymphedema in order to confirm this. These tests could consist of:
Doppler ultrasound: This test uses high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to reflect off red blood cells to examine blood flow. It can assist in locating obstructions and excluding additional potential sources of edema, such as blood clots.
A magnet, radio waves, and a computer are used in the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam to create a sequence of intricate 3D (three-dimensional) images within your body. This test may be used by medical professionals to determine whether a tumor or other object is pressing against your lymphatic system.
CT scan: This examination employs X-rays to provide comprehensive, cross-sectional images of the internal organs in your body. This test may be used by medical professionals to look for indications that something is pressing against your lymphatic system, similar to an MRI.
Does lymphedema have stages?
Yes, the following stage system is used by healthcare providers:
Stage 0: There are no visible symptoms of edema, although the affected area may feel tight, heavy, and swollen.
Stage I: Occasional swelling is possible, but it subsides when you elevate the afflicted area.
Stage II: Your skin in the affected area may feel firmer than the surrounding area and is virtually always swollen.
Stage III: Your skin’s color and texture change along with a large amount of edema in the affected area.
CONTROL AND TREATMENT
How can lymphedema be treated?
Because lymphedema cannot be cured, it cannot be eliminated. Lymphedema can be treated in a variety of ways that won’t compromise your quality of life.
What are the remedies for lymphedema?
Treatments for lymphedema differ depending on the cause and severity of your illness. Physical therapy or other therapies may be used as treatments like lymphatic drainage massage to keep lymphatic fluid flowing and lessen discomfort and swelling. Additionally, your doctor can advise painkillers or medicines for infections.
What physical therapies are available for lymphedema?
Physical therapy and clothing or bandaging that removes fluid from lymphedema-affected regions are frequently used in lymphedema treatment. It’s crucial to continue wearing clothing or bandaging following physical therapy for lymphedema in order to sustain the therapeutic effect. There are several physical therapies for lymphedema:
Compression clothes: Compression garments apply pressure to your body and might take the form of socks, sleeves, or wraps. By doing this, you lower your risk of lymphedema problems and swelling.
Physical therapy: To promote circulation, physical therapists who specialize in lymphedema use a moderate kind of massage. Manual lymphatic drainage is used here (MLD). You might be taught how to give this massage on your own by the therapists.
After manual lymphatic drainage therapy, your physical therapist could apply multilayer compression bandages to the parts of your body that are swollen. If you’ve ever sprained your ankle, you may have applied a quick stretch bandage to reduce swelling. Your lymphedema is affected in the same way by multilayer compression bandaging.) Your body’s swollen parts are treated by physical therapists by applying layers of bandages with varying degrees of pressure. Your tissues are under pressure from the bandages, which forces fluid back into circulation.
In order to prevent fluid from accumulating in your arms, legs, and other areas of your body, compression devices such as these pneumatic compression pumps offer on-and-off pressure to keep fluid circulating through your lymph capillaries and veins. The gadgets operate by coupling the pump to a sleeve that encircles your troublesome areas. The sleeve is inflated and deflated in a regular cycle by the pump. Lymphedema difficulties may be lessened by compression pumps.
Elevation: Lymphedema symptoms are influenced by gravity. The damaged portion of your body should be kept as elevated as you can.
Exercise: Getting moving helps to promote lymphatic drainage.
Do lymphedema surgical procedures exist?
In the event that nonsurgical treatments have not relieved your symptoms, healthcare professionals may advise surgery. It takes place in facilities with a focus on this form of therapy. Surgery for lymphedema is often only performed in cases with severe lymphedema. It is also not a total cure. Surgery is not available to everyone. If you have lymphedema, find out from your doctor if surgery is appropriate for you. Surgical procedures could be:
Surgery to link and reroute lymphatic arteries and veins in order to prevent clogs and allow lymph to drain into your body’s venous system is known as a lymphatic bypass treatment.
Transplanting healthy lymph nodes from other parts of the body to replace damaged ones allows surgeons to effectively build a new lymphatic system for the lymphedematous portion of the body.
Debulking: This procedure is used to treat lymphedema that is very severe. It entails surgically removing all skin, fat, and tissue from the area of your body that is afflicted, followed by the application of a skin transplant.
How can I lower my chance of getting lymphedema?
Although there are steps you may take to lessen and perhaps avoid swelling, you cannot completely eliminate all risks for lymphedema. Ask your surgeon and other medical professionals about exercises that could help with edema reduction if you are undergoing breast cancer surgery or receiving other therapy. Other actions comprise:
Keep an eye on your body: Ask your doctor if you can have the affected part of your body measured so you can keep note of any slight changes that could be symptoms of lymphedema before you see any swelling. Early detection of abnormalities can let you begin treatment right immediately.
Elevating the damaged areas: Try to keep your injured arm or leg raised above your heart whenever you can.
Remain active: Find strategies to move gently while you’re recuperating to keep fluids flowing.
Keeping out of extreme temps Your risk of lymphedema may increase in extreme heat.
Additions to the advice
When your arm or leg is swollen, finding comfort might be challenging. The following ideas could be useful:
Wear comfortable clothing that won’t feel restrictive on your arms and legs to stay loose. Wear loose-fitting, closed-toe clothing and avoid wearing tight socks, tights, or hosiery. It’s possible that you can’t wear jewelry or watches on the affected arm, but if you can, make sure that they aren’t squeezing it.
Sit appropriately by keeping your feet flat on the floor and avoiding leg crossings to allow the fluid in your legs to continue to circulate. Aim to get up and move about once every 30 minutes during these breaks.
Safe travels: Ask your doctor if compression sleeves or pants should be worn on your injured arm or leg if you have a flight coming up soon.
When should I schedule a visit with my doctor?
If you find that your affected arm or limb is swelling more than usual or if you suspect an infection, get in touch with your healthcare professional.
PERSPECTIVE / PROGNOSIS
How should I prepare if I have lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a persistent ailment. Although they don’t treat lymphedema, treatment and lifestyle modifications are effective strategies to control its symptoms.
How should I treat my lymphedema?
Although there is no known cure for lymphedema, minor adjustments to your daily routine may help to lessen swelling and associated symptoms. Consider making minor dietary adjustments, getting more exercise, and taking preventative measures against infections.
How can I defend against infections?
Your skin is stressed by lymphedema, which increases its susceptibility to infection from wounds like cuts, scrapes, and scratches. People with lymphedema may experience major medical problems as a result of infections. By maintaining proper hygiene and protecting your skin, you can help keep yourself safe. Some suggestions are:
Wash your hands: Throughout the day, before preparing food, after using the restroom, or after touching soiled clothing or linens, wash your hands with soap and warm water.
Keep your skin safe: To prevent scratching, put on gloves. Shave using an electric razor. To prevent bug bites that can cause you to desire to scratch, wear insect repellent. When you go outside, wear sun protection (SPF 30 or higher).
Care for any wounds right away: Infections can result from even mild injuries. If you have wounds or scrapes, you should wash them with soap and water, oint them with antibiotic cream, and bandage them. If you notice any infection-related symptoms, such as fever, pain, swelling that doesn’t go away, or redness, call your doctor right once.
What benefits does exercise provide for lymphedema?
When fluid collects in one area of the body, it results in lymphedema. One of the finest ways to keep fluid circulating is exercise. Prior to beginning an exercise program, consult with your healthcare provider. They’ll offer advice and perhaps propose particular exercises you can perform. Other ideas include:
Stretching for five minutes should serve as a warm-up before any exercise, and a five to ten minute cool-down should follow.
Move slowly: Be patient with your body while it adjusts to your exercise regimen. With a goal of exercising for 20 to 30 minutes each day, start with 10 minutes.
Breathe easily: Avoid physically demanding activities that exert pressure on the injured arm or leg.
Ask your doctor when you can start lifting weights again if you often undertake strength training or weightlifting. They might advise against certain workouts or place restrictions on the amount of weight you should be able to lift.
Don’t push yourself: Keep an eye on the arm or leg that is being affected, and stop if you feel any tremors. After finishing your cool-down regimen, elevate your arm or leg to rest above your heart.
Do not continue exercising if it aches; instead, stop and call your provider. They might want to examine the limb or arm that is injured.
How does altering my diet benefit me?
You may be able to control edema by maintaining a healthy diet. When your lymphatic system is fed nutrients from fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and lean protein, it operates more efficiently. You can keep your weight at a healthy level by eating well. Several recommendations are:
Pass the salt: Salt can cause fluid retention. To spice up your dish, try using fresh herbs and other flavors.
hydrate yourself: Water flushing is aided by consuming eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
Lymphedema is swelling throughout your body caused by a problem with your lymphatic system. It’s a long-term ailment that could harm your wellbeing, your mood, and your self-esteem. Lymphedema is a challenging illness. However, you may take action to manage your symptoms and make lymphedema simpler to live with. Small adjustments like adopting a healthy diet and increasing your activity can have a significant impact. Additionally, your doctor may suggest therapies to lessen lymphedema symptoms. If you’re experiencing problems managing your lymphedema, let them know. They’ll either provide you with the assistance you require or nudge you in the correct way to locate it.