So….What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a condition that occurs when your lymph vessels are unable to adequately drain lymph fluid resulting in swelling of in the arms, legs or trunk of the body. This edema can be primary where it occurs on it’s own or more commonly, secondary due to an interruption of the lymphatic system. Secondary lymphedema can be a result of surgery where lymph nodes are removed and or damaged from radiation in the treatment of cancer. Compounding risk factors include higher body mass index and older age.
The lymphatic system is an important part of your immune system and is crucial to keeping your body healthy. It circulates protein-rich lymph fluid throughout your body, collecting bacteria, viruses and waste products. Your lymphatic system carries this fluid and harmful substance through your lymph vessels, which lead to lymph nodes. The wastes are then filtered out by lymphocytes-infection fighting cells that live in your lymph nodes- ultimately flushed from you body.
There are a lot of parts to our lymphatic system!!
Lymphedema is different from normal swelling, let’s say from spraining your ankle. In this instance there is an increase in tissue fluid as a normal response to promote healing to the area. As healing progresses the tissue fluid decreases. Lymphedema is a back up of the protein rich fluid that your damaged lymphatic system can no longer uptake. The system’s capacity is lowered due to the damage and can’t handle the extra load. Diuretics to treat normal edema can actually cause more harm than good in lymphedema. Lymphedema left untreated can result in further complications such as sepsis, cellulitis, fibrosis of the skin and ulcerations.
It is important for those with lymphedema to be evaluated by a certified lymphedema therapist. Treatment will be individualized for each patient. Most treatment will consist of patient education, manual lymphatic drainage, compression bandaging and exercise. Consistent management of lymphedema is crucial for optimal outcomes and quality of life.
Please call our clinic and speak with our certified lymphedema therapist with any questions or to schedule your appointment today!