The Lymph System
To understand lymphedema, it helps to understand the function of the lymphatic system, which includes an extensive network of lymph vessels and lymph nodes.
The lymphatic system helps coordinate the immune system’s function to protect the body from foreign substances.
Here’s how the lymphatic system works:
What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is an abnormal buildup of fluid that causes swelling, most often in the arms or legs. The condition develops when lymph vessels or lymph nodes are missing, impaired, damaged or removed.
There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary.
Lymphedema can occur within a few days, months or years after lymphatic injury.
What are the signs and symptoms of lymphedema?
Symptoms of lymphedema include swelling in the arms, hands, fingers, shoulders or legs. The swelling may occur for the first time after a traumatic event (such as bruises, cuts, sunburn, and sports injuries), after an infection, or in the part of the body that was treated for cancer.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your health care provider. Prompt treatment can help manage the condition before complications occur.
How is lymphedema treated?
Lymphedema treatments vary, depending on the stage and cause of the condition.
If the initial signs and symptoms of swelling are caused by infection, antibiotics may be prescribed.
Your doctor may refer you to a physical or occupational therapist who specializes in managing lymphedema. The therapist will assess your condition and work with you to develop an individual treatment plan. Therapy may include:
Lymphedema can be prevented or managed by following the recommendations listed below, including: maintaining good nutrition, exercising regularly, avoiding infections, avoiding tight clothing, shoes or jewelry; avoiding heavy lifting with the affected arm, and practicing good skin care.
Maintain Good Nutrition
Maintaining good nutrition is an important part of your overall health care. Here are some general guidelines:
Avoid Tight Clothing Shoes or Jewelry
Keep Your Skin Meticulously Clean
What is the outlook for people with Lymphedema?
Lymphedema cannot be cured. However, with proper care and treatment, the affected limb can usually be restored to a manageable size and shape. In addition, lymphedema can be managed and controlled so that it does not progress further.
If left untreated, lymphedema can lead to increased swelling and a hardening of the tissue, resulting in decreased function and mobility in the affected limb. It can also lead to chronic infections and other illnesses.
It is important to receive treatment promptly if you recognize symptoms of lymphedema.
What can I do if I already have lymphedema?
To help decrease the risk of further swelling, continue following the recommendations for preventing lymphedema listed above. In addition: