Lymphedema refers to the medical condition that is characterized by an irregular increase and accumulation of fluids in the extremities of the body that results in unusual swelling especially in the limbs.
The lymphatic fluid is responsible for eliminating all harmful substances from the body. The network of lymph vessels and nodes transport this lymph fluid to the bloodstream. Any obstruction in this network hinders the movement of the lymph fluid and as a result it gets collected in one place leading to excessive swelling and extreme pain.
Thus, lymphedema, that occurs due to dysfunction of the lymph glands, is primarily a trauma to the lymphatic system that may be caused due to surgery, radiation treatment for cancer or removal of lymph nodes. Although any part of the body may get affected by lymphedema, hands and legs are most prone to its symptoms.
Types of Lymphedema
There are two main types of lymphedema – Primary and Secondary.
- Primary lymphedema is also referred to as hereditary
lymphedema. This is inherited genetically and is present at the time of birth. It
may show up during adolescence or adulthood.
- Secondary lymphedema is the lymphedema that is acquired due to other factors like surgery of the lymph node or radiations from the cancer treatment.
Cause of Lymphedema
- Birth defects in the lymph gland are a major factor causing lymphedema in the new-born.
- A few diseases are also known to obstruct the functioning of the lymphatic system and lead to lymphedema.
- Treatment of cancer that requires radiation therapy is also one of the main causes of lymphedema. All cancer survivors are at a high risk of lymphedema and must keep an open eye for any early signs.
- Lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis is a parasitic infection spread by mosquito bite and commonly affects people residing in tropical regions. This causes acute lymphedema symptoms.
- Women may experience secondary lymphedema in their upper body after undergoing mastectomy or lumpectomy surgical procedures.
- Women may also suffer from secondary lymphedema in the lower body after getting treatment for ovarian or uterine cancer.
- Men mostly suffer from lymphedema in their legs due to the treatment of colon, or testicular prostate cancer.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
The symptoms of lymphedema develop very slowly and are not much easily noticeable, that is why it is tough to diagnose lymphedema in its initial stages. At the commencement, there is mild edema without much fluid accumulation and thus the patient only suffers from a feeling of heaviness in the limbs.
It is only when it goes undiagnosed and untreated for a long while that the condition worsens and leads to swelling in the arms and/or legs due to excessive fluid build-up. This is the first most prominent sign of lymphedema and usually occurs after a surgical procedure is performed to treat an injury or trauma to a limb. A sudden fall in the cabin pressure during an airline flight can also initiate a lymphedema attack.
The patient may feel an unusual tightness in the ankles and/or wrist and have difficulty in moving the fingers or toes. The patient may also suddenly find their clothes to have become tight. The bracelets or rings that you could easily wear earlier may not fit you any longer.
There is change in skin colour accompanied by development of cysts in the affected area. In extreme cases, lymphedema may even lead to fibrosis.
Treatment of Lymphedema
The treatment for lymphedema is mainly a combination of massage therapy, compression bandages, moderate exercise, and skin care.
- Mild edema is curable and reversible. Thus, if you recognize the first signs of lymphedema, you may be able to prevent the condition from getting critical.
- Eat a healthy and nutritious diet and avoiding salty foods or foods that have a high fat content can also work wonders for lymphedema patients.
- All cancer patients are advised to perform mild and low-impact exercises every day. Exercise not only keeps the body flexible but also assists in circulating the fluids properly.
- Women who have undergone mastectomy or lumpectomy are also suggested to do simple weight lifting exercises as that would strengthen the arm and prevent pooling of fluid by promoting its circulation.
- All lymphedema patients are prone to infections and thus must take all necessary precautions to avoid injuries, bruises, burns, etc as these can be an entry point for bacteria.
- With the help of lymph drainage massage therapy, the lymph fluid can be directed to move in the right direction.
- Always clean and moisturize your skin as that will prevent infections.
- Surgery may eventually be needed for patients who do not have any signs of improvement after employing conventional therapy methods.
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Dr. Rajah V Koppala at Avis Hospitals is a distinguished interventional radiologist and has expertise in treating even the most critical cases of lymphedema. With over 24+ years of experience, Dr. Rajah V Koppala is the best medical practitioner for the efficient treatment of lymphedema in a long lasting and cost effective way.
Whether you require more details about the treatment process or have already noticed the first signs of lymphedema and are looking for genuine medical advice for treatment, contact Dr. Rajah V Koppala at Avis Hospitals for pinpoint diagnosis, efficient treatment, and unmatched patient care! Book an appointment today!