Lymphedema

Lymphedema is the obstruction or blockage in the lymphatic system. It refers to swelling in the arms or legs, sometimes both. It is commonly caused by the damage to the lymph nodes, may be due to cancer treatment. The lymphatic system is a part of immune system and when there is damage to the lymphatic system, the immunity is reduced. The blockage in the lymphatic system prevents the lymph fluid from draining out; this causes swelling.

There is no proper cure for lymphedema, although treatment may help to some extent. Early diagnosis and diligent care may help in reducing the severity.

Causes

The major causes of lymphedema are:

  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • Removal of lymph nodes
  • Scar tissue left as a result of radiation therapy
  • Inherited conditions such as absence or abnormal lymph nodes

Symptoms

  • The common signs and symptoms of lymphedema include thickened skin, recurring infections, feeling of tightness, reduced range of motion, swelling in the arms or legs, discomfort or severe aching.

The swelling in the lymphedema may be mild, but if it is severe, the size of the arm makes it difficult for you to use it.

You must call the doctor immediately if you notice any persistent swelling in your arms or legs or both.

Factors that may increase your risk of developing lymphedema are old age, overweight, rheumatoid arthritis.

Lymphedema can lead to severe complications such as:

There may be a chance of infections such as cellulitis or lymphangitis. The tiny or smallest injury to the affected area may be the entry point for an infection.

Lymphangiosarcoma is a rare soft tissue cancer that may be a result of a severe form of lymphedema, or may be due to untreated lymphedema. The possible signs of lymphangiosarcoma include blue-red or purple marks on the skin.

 

Your doctor performs a physical examination and conducts a medical history review. If the cause of the condition is not clear, then your doctor may order for other imaging tests to look at your lymphatic system, imaging tests include:

  • MRI scan: is used to view the lymph system in a better dimensional way
  • CT scan: helps in revealing the blockage in your lymphatic system.
  • Doppler ultrasound: it helps in looking at the blood flow and pressure of the sound waves off the red blood cells. Ultrasound helps in finding the obstructions.
  • Radionuclide imaging: this test involves the injection of dye and then scanning with the help of a machine. The images produced would highlight the areas of blockage.

There is no cure for Lymphedema. The primary goals of the treatment focus on reducing the swelling and controlling the pain. The treatment options for Lymphedema include:

Physical activity: moving your affected limb slightly helps in draining the lymph fluid and makes it easy for you to perform the day-to-day operations.

Wrap your arm: Application of tight bandage on the entire limb encourages lymph fluid to flow back towards the trunk.

Massage: performing special massage techniques manually to drain the lymph fluid from the arm or leg. Avoid massage if you have an infection, blood clots or congestive heart failure. Also, avoid massage on the areas exposed to radiation therapy.

Follow the tips given below to prevent Lymphedema:

  • Avoid compressing or tight clothing
  • Always keep your arms or legs clean
  • Protect your arms or legs from injuries
  • Rest your arms or legs while recovering
  • Elevate your arm or leg to reduce the swelling
  • Avoid application of ice or heat on the affected area