What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is swelling that occurs in the arms or the legs due to a collection of too much lymph fluid. It typically affects the arms or legs, but can occur elsewhere.
causes Of lymphedema
Lymphedema is commonly caused by damage to your lymphatic system or blockage in the system. There are two types of lymphedema:
This form is caused by another condition or disease that damages your lymph nodes or lymph vessels. These are some of those causes:
- Cancer or radiation treatment for cancer
- Infection in the lymph nodes
- Lymph node removal
- Injury to the lymph nodes
This form is much less common. It is a genetic problem where the person’s lymph nodes or vessels are missing or are poorly developed.
What are the symptoms of lymphedema?
- Swelling of part or all of your leg or arm, including the digits.
- A feeling of heaviness or tightness
- Restricted range of motion
- Aching or discomfort
- Recurring infections
- Hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis)
What are the stages of lymphedema?
There are four stages to this condition:
- Stage 0 — Also called latent lymphedema, there are no visible changes, but the lymph transport is impaired. Patients may have tightness in the skin or heaviness.
- Stage 1 — This is mild lymphedema. It includes mild swelling that will begin in the furthest part of the limb, such as the hand or foot, and slowly moves up the limb. Gravity causes this pooling during the day, and it may disappear at night when the limbs are raised.
- Stage 2 — Moderate lymphedema causes the skin to acquire a spongy appearance and it pits less than in Stage 1 because the skin is gradually thickening due to fibrosis. Fatty tissue will likely be accumulating below the skin due to inflammation from the lymph fluid building in the tissues. \
- Stage 3 — Also known as severe lymphedema, the skin becomes very hard and scaly and enlarges significantly. The skin can begin leaking, a condition known as lymphorrhea through breaks in the skin. Skin folds become a problem and infections develop in them. The limbs become very heavy and impact movement.
How Can Lymphedema be treated?
There is no cure for lymphedema, but it can be treated and kept in lower stages. These are treatment approaches:
- Compression garments — Fabric sleeves apply pressure onto the affected limb. This helps the lymph fluid to circulate are remove waste products.
- Compression devices — These sleeves are attached to a pump that automatically applies and then releases pressure onto the limb on a timed schedule to prevent lymph fluid buildup.
- Bandages — Wrapping the area can help push the lymph fluid toward the trunk of the body and out of the limb.
- Massage — Lymphatic massage helps to move fluid from areas of swelling to other areas where working lymph vessels can carry it away. Patients are also taught how to do this massage themselves.
- Exercise — Exercises may help promote lymph drainage and they will strengthen the affected limb.
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