Normally, your lymph nodes filter protein-rich lymph fluid before it’s released into your bloodstream. When lymph nodes become obstructed, their ability to filter becomes impaired, causing lymph fluid to collect, resulting in swelling. There are two main types of lymphedema:
This condition is the result of the faulty development of lymph nodes and/or blood vessels. This deficiency, mainly affecting women, may cause symptoms to appear shortly after birth or much later in life. Primary lymphedema most often affects the legs.
This type of lymphedema can result from the surgical removal of lymph nodes or the chronic overload of the lymphatic system, which can be caused by recurrent skin infections, obesity, or ongoing blood vessels problems; it’s also a common complication of radiation treatment. Secondary lymphedema usually only affects the body part with the absent or injured lymph nodes.
Most of the symptoms associated with lymphedema occur only in the affected limb. Swelling, either in part of your limb or throughout it, is the tell-tale sign of the condition. Swelling may be mild and hardly noticeable, or severe enough to make it difficult to use your limb. Other signs and symptoms include:
The vascular experts at NEOVA can typically make an accurate lymphedema diagnosis based on your medical history and a comprehensive physical examination. Imaging of the lymphatic system — done through a scanning process known as a lymphoscintigraphy — can confirm the diagnosis and help identify treatment options.
Because lymphedema is a chronic condition and damage to the lymphatic system can’t be reversed or repaired, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible so that treatment can begin. Left untreated, lymphedema can cause irreversible skin changes, recurrent skin infections, and reduced mobility.
The main goal of lymphedema treatment is to reduce swelling and control discomfort or pain. Common treatment approaches include:
Light exercises specifically designed to encourage fluid drainage can help improve mobility and functionality.
Stockings or sleeves made to compress your limbs promote lymph fluid drainage, are worn when exercising the affected limb.
Manual lymph drainage, performed by a specially trained therapist, can help encourage lymph fluid to flow out of the limb where it’s pooling.
After lymph fluid has been moved out of a limb, wrapping the entire limb with bandages can prevent the area from refilling with fluids.
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