When the impaired flow of the lymphatic system occurs, an individual is suffering from lymphedema. Due to this impaired flow, the patient will suffer from swelling in one or more of their extremities. The arms and legs will be subject to swelling and treatment will be needed in order to assist with the swelling symptoms.
The lymphatic system consists of lymph vessels located within the body. The purpose of these vessels is to collect lymph fluid excess from tissues in the body that contain proteins, waste products, and lipids. The fluid then travels to the lymph nodes where the waste products are filtered. The fluid also contains cells that fight infection, known as lymphocytes. The excess fluid then travels back to the bloodstream. When lymphedema occurs, the lymph vessels are unable to carry the fluid away or are blocked. This creates localized swelling, usually in the arms or legs, or both.
In most cases of lymphedema, the swelling will be present in one arm or leg. However, there are times when both limbs will be affected. With primary lymphedema, the lymph vessels are subject to an anatomical abnormality. This is a condition that is inherited and rare. Secondary lymphedema is caused by damage to the lymph vessels and lymph nodes or an obstruction which causes abnormal function, resulting in swelling.
Lymphedema normally occurs due to a parasite infection known as filariasis. In the United States, the issue commonly occurs in female breast cancer patients. It is not uncommon to see the diagnosis of lymphedema after radiation treatment is completed by a woman with breast cancer.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
There are physical as well as visual symptoms associated with lymphedema. First, you may begin to notice a heavy feeling or tingling in an arm or leg. Warmth or shooting pains can also be present including a tight feeling. Such symptoms can occur before swelling takes place in the leg or the arm. In the affected limb, you may begin to see a decrease in the ability to feel or see your tendons or veins in the arm or leg.
Jewelry or clothing may begin to feel tight and you may begin to notice a redness on the skin. Joints may have flexibility issues, or you may feel tightness in your joints. The skin of the affected area may also become puffy.
Treatments for Lymphedema
There are several treatment options for lymphedema, including compression therapy or surgery. With compression therapy, you can choose to use elastic stockings or sleeves depending on the extremity affected. The elastic will offer gradual compression to repair the swelling. Bandages can also be wrapped around the end of the arm or leg and wrapped more loosely toward the trunk to encourage the flow to move out towards the center of the body from the lymph nodes.
Manual compression can also help with lymphedema. Massage techniques can be used to help drain the lymph nodes manually. You will need to schedule a lymphedema therapy treatment with an individual who has experience in working in these areas of the body to improve lymph flow.
When it comes to surgical options, the excess fluid of the arms or legs will be removed, sometimes the tissues associated. Surgery is only used in severe cases and will not provide a cure for lymphedema. When an infection occurs due to lymphedema, antibiotics will need to be used in order to avoid sepsis.
There is no cure for lymphedema, but there are ways in which the condition can be treated. Working with trained professionals who specialize in the condition will help you to feel some relief based on the effects of the disease.