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What is lymphedema?

2017/06/28 Home Education and advice

What is lymphedema?

What is the lymphatic system?

The lymphatic system is an essential component of the immune system and helps to maintain the fluid balance within the body. The lymphatic system is composed of lymph nodes and lymph vessels, which filter harmful cells out of the body and transport lymph towards the heart.

 

What is lymphedema?

If the lymph nodes sustain a trauma and/or are damaged, then the flow of lymph is disrupted ultimately resulting in lymphedema. Lymphedema is a chronic condition characterized by swelling due to an abnormal buildup of lymph fluid in the body tissues. The development of lymphedema is unpredictable in most cases and can develop within weeks, months or years following a medical intervention for cancer.

 

Signs and symptoms of lymphedema?

  • Swelling of one part of the body;
  • Sensation of tension and heaviness in an arm or leg;
  • Decreased mobility of a hand and arm or foot and leg;
  • Impression that one’s clothing and jewelry is too tight;
  • Shining and tight skin.

 

Treatments for lymphedema?

Without appropriate medical treatment, lymphedema can progress and result in decreased mobility of the affected limb. In addition, the patient may experience pain, changes in skin texture and functional disability.

 

Lymphedema can be controlled by a physiotherapist with:

  • Compressive garments and bandages;
  • Exercises;
  • Manual lymphatic drainage;
  • Risk reduction practices.

 

Risk Reduction Practices:  

People with lymphedema have an increased risk of developing an infection. Risk reduction practices help to decrease the risk of infections and prevent one’s lymphedema from progressing.

  • Take good care of your skin and nails;
  • Clean your skin with a gentle soap and use a hydrating cream;
  • Protect your skin with high factor sunscreen and insect repellent;
  • Avoid exposure to extreme temperatures;
  • Avoid trauma to the affected limb;
  • If possible, avoid injections and blood tests in the affected arm;
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing and jewellery;
  • Eat a balanced diet and maintain an optimal body weight;
  • Be more active and undertake exercises and movement of the limb.

References

Lymphoedema Framework (2006). Best Practice for the Management of Lymphoedema. International consensus. London: MEP Ltd.

Associated services

Oncology program