Edema or Lymphedema
Some individuals may experience swelling of arms and/or legs that appear to be totally unrelated to any known cause. The unexplained edema may infact be a condition called lymphedema
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is defined simply as an accumulation of excessive protein rich fluid in the tissues of the leg. The accumulation of fluid causes the permanent swelling caused by a defective lymph system.
A conservative estimate is that there may be 1-2 million people in the United States with some form of primary lymphedema and two to three million with secondary lymphedema.
How is Lymphedema Treated?
The preferred treatment today is decongestive therapy. The forms of therapy are complete decongestive therapy (CDT) or manual decongestive therapy (MDT), there are variances, but most involve these two type of treatment.
It is a form of massage therapy where the leg is very gently massaged to actually move the fluid out of the leg and into an area where the lymph system still functions normally.
With these massage treatments, swelling is reduced and then the patient is fitted with a pre-measured custom pressure garment to keep the swelling down and/or is taught to use compression wraps to maintain the leg size.
What are the symptoms of Lymphedema?
If you are an at risk person for leg lymphedema there are early warning signs you should be aware of. If you experience any or several of these symptoms, you should immediately make your physician aware of them.
1.) Unexplained aching, hurting or pain in the leg.
2.) Experiencing "fleeting lymphedema." This is where the limb may swell, even slightly, then return to normal. This may be a precursor to full blown leg lymphedema.
3.) Localized swelling of any area. Sometimes lymphedema may start as swelling in one area, for example the foot, or between the ankle and knee. This is an indication of early lymphatic malfunction.
4.) Any arm inflammation, redness or infection.
5.) You may experience a feeling of tightness, heaviness or weakness of the leg.
What are some of the complications of lymphedema?
1. Infections such as cellulitis, lymphangitis, erysipelas. This is due not only to the large accumulation of fluid, but it is well documented that lymphodemous limbs are localized immuno-deficient.
2. Draining wounds that leak lymphorrea which is very caustic to surrounding skin tissue and acts as a port of entry for infections.
3. Increased pain as a result of the compression of nerves usually caused by the development of fibrosis and increased build up of fluids.
4. Loss of Function due to the swelling and limb changes.
5. Depression - Psychological coping as a result of the disfigurement and debilitating effect of lymphedema.
6. Deep venous thrombosis again as a result of the pressure of the swelling and fibrosis against the vascular system. Also, can happen as a result of cellulitis, lymphangitis and infections.
7. Sepsis, Gangrene are possibilities as a result of the infections.
8. Possible amputation of the limb.
9. Pleural effusions may result if the lymphatics in the abdomen or chest are to overwhelmed to clear the lung cavity of fluids.
10. Skin complications such as splitting, plaques, susceptibility to fungus and bacterial infections.
11. Chronic localized inflammations.
Can lymphedema be cured?
No, at the present time there is no cure for lymphedema. But it can be treated and managed and most of the complications can be avoided. Life with lymphedema can still be active and full, with proper treatment, patient education, and patient life style adaptation.
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(c) Copyright 2005 by Pat O'Connor and Lymphedema People. Use of this information for educational purpose is encouraged and permitted. It must be available free and without charge and not used for financial renumeration or gain. Please include an acknowledgement to the author and a link to Lymphedema People.