Whether it’s present at birth or develops later in life, lymphedema is always a concern.
One of your body’s most crucial defenses against disease and infection is the lymph system. Lymph fluid travels through vessels, carrying white blood cells and other beneficial substances, while lymph nodes help filter out harmful substances, including cancer cells. At times, though, lymphatic vessels can become blocked and the fluid accumulates where it doesn't belong, leading to swelling of various body parts, a medical condition called lymphedema.
According to the National Lymphedema Network, some people are born with the disease. Others develop a form called secondary lymphedema, often after experiencing one of the following:
- radiation treatment or the scarring it can cause
Cancer surgeries that require removal of lymph nodes, such as for breast cancer, increase the risk of developing lymphedema.
The National Cancer Institute outlines a number of symptoms for lymphedema. These include:
- swelling of the arms, legs, fingers, or toes
- a heavy feeling in an arm or leg
- difficulty moving arm or leg joints
- a burning feeling in the legs
- thickening of the skin, sometimes accompanied by skin changes, such as blisters
- loss of hair
- trouble sleeping
Treatment of lymphedema varies, depending on the severity of the condition. Some of the more common treatments include:
- Wearing pressure garments – made of special fabrics, these garments help move lymphatic fluid though the body and reduce build-ups.
- Exercising – aerobic and other forms of exercise can be good for keeping the fluid circulating. Check with a certified lymphedema therapist to discuss the best exercise regimen.
- Wearing bandages – once treatment has begun, the bandages can prevent a recurrence of fluid build-up.
- Losing weight – for women who have had breast cancer and develop the condition, this step helps improve their lymphedema.
- Having a massage – specially trained massage therapists are able to lightly rub and massage the body to help keep lymphatic fluid flowing.
Proper treatment of lymphedema helps patients live normal, pain-free lives. At Woman’s Hospital, our Lymphedema Therapy team offers a variety of ways to tackle this condition before more serious health problems develop.
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