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Lymphedema, also known as Lymphedema is a condition of fluid retention which is a symptom of a damaged lymphatic system.
There are a number of ways this condition occurs. It may be inherited, caused by trauma but is most commonly caused by cancer treatments such as surgery, where lymph nodes are removed.
Lymphedema can also be associated with accidents or certain diseases or problems that may inhibit the lymphatic system from functioning properly. In tropical areas of the world, a common cause of secondary lymphedema is filariasis, a parasitic infection.
It generally occurs due to poorly-developed or missing lymph nodes or channels in the body. Lymphoedema may be present at birth, develope at the onset of puberty (praecox), or not become apparent for many years into adulthood (tarda).
Lymphedema affects both men and women. In women, it is most prevalent in the upper limbs after breast cancer surgery and lymph node dissection, occurring in the arm on the side of the body in which the surgery is performed. It may also occur in the lower limbs or groin after surgery for colon, ovarian or uterine cancer in which removal of lymph nodes is required.
In men, lower-limb primary lymphoedema is most common, occurring in one or both legs. Surgery or treatment for prostate, colon and testicular cancers may result in secondary lymphedema, particularly where lymph nodes have been removed or damaged. Swellings can become extremely pronounced and often cause a limb to double it's normal size.
Infections are a common problem with this condition and must be guarded against.
When the lymphatic impairment becomes so great that the lymph fluid exceeds the lymphatic system's ability to transport it, an abnormal amount of protein-rich fluid collects in the tissues of the affected area. Left untreated, this stagnant, protein-rich fluid causes tissue channels to increase in size and number, reducing the availability of oxygen.
This interferes with wound healing and provides a rich culture medium for bacterial growth that can result in infections: cellulitis, lymphangitis, lymphadenitis, and in severe cases, skin ulcers.
Usually the affected areas are the legs or arms. As the limb swells the skin can become dry and irritable. If not managed correctly the skin may become infected leading to further complications.
This condition requires constant maintenance to counteract swelling and possible onset of infection. Exercise is important to maintain good circulation and keep the flow of fluids constant throughout the body and avoiding stagnation of the lymphatic system.
What are the best treatment options for the varying degrees of Lymphedema?
The most common medical protocol is: Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT).
This method consists of: a) manual
lymphatic drainage; b) bandaging; c) proper skin care & diet; d)
compression garments (sleeves, stockings, devices such as Reid Sleeve,
CircAid, Tribute, as well as other alternative approaches); e) remedial
exercises; f) self-manual lymphatic drainage & bandaging, if
instruction is available; g) continue to follow prophylactic methods at
Compression garments are commonly used on the affected area to squeeze the excess fluids out from the area and back into circulation. These garments are very effective and anyone suffering from this condition should own a set.
Compression bandaging, also called wrapping, is the application of several layers of padding and short-stretch bandages to the affected areas.
Short-stretch bandages are preferred over long-stretch bandages as the long-stretch bandages cannot produce the higher tension necessary to safely reduce Lymphedema and may in fact end up producing a tourniquet effect.
During activity, whether exercise or daily activities, the short-stretch bandages enhance the pumping action of the lymph vessels by providing increased resistance for them to push against. This encourages lymphatic flow and helps to soften swollen areas.
Take our Lymph Test to see if Lymphatic Decompression Therapy is a therapy you should consider.