Lymphedema is a condition characterized by the accumulation of protein-rich fluid in the body’s tissues due to the inadequate drainage of lymphatic fluids. Typically, this leads to swelling in the arms or legs, although it can also affect other areas such as the chest wall, abdomen, neck, and genitals.
Lymphedema is swelling throughout the body caused by a problem with the lymphatic system. The extra fluid, proteins, and toxins that are present in your tissues and cells are gathered by the lymphatic system and released into the bloodstream.
There are two types of lymphedema.
- Primary lymphedema: This type results from uncommon, genetic disorders that interfere with the growth of the lymphatic system in the body.
- Secondary lymphedema: Lymphedema is a condition that can occur when a person’s lymphatic system, which was previously functioning normally, becomes damaged. There are several factors that can cause this condition, including surgery, trauma, or radiation therapy.
Severe lymphedema may affect movement in the affected limb, increase the risk of sepsis and skin infections, and cause skin abnormalities and breakdown. Compression bandages, massage, compression stockings, sequential pneumatic pumping, careful skin care, and, in rare cases, surgery to remove swollen tissue or build new drainage routes are all possible forms of treatment.
Although there is no known cure for lymphedema, healthcare provider can treat the swelling and pain it causes. Patient can take a type of actions to lessen the potential adverse effects lymphedema may have on the quality of life.
Signs and symptoms of lymphedema include:
- Unusual swelling of the finger or toes, as well as a portion or the entire arm or leg.
- Heaviness or tightness
- Limited range of motion
- Recurring infections
- Fibrosis, a hardening and thickening of the skin.
- Itchiness or burning sensation
- Redness and puffy skin
The severity of signs and symptoms related to lymphedema can vary, ranging from mild to severe. It is possible for lymphedema caused by cancer treatment to develop months or even years after the treatment has been completed.
If the patient notices recurrent swelling in their arm or leg, they should schedule an appointment with the healthcare provider. Consult the healthcare provider if the size of the affected limb increases suddenly and significantly if they already have lymphedema.
The lymphatic system consists of lymph vessels that transport lymph fluid through various nodes in the body. These nodes, commonly known as lymph nodes, act as filters that detect and remove foreign substances, including cancer cells and infections.
The movement of lymph fluid through the lymph vessels is facilitated by the contraction of muscles during everyday activities and by tiny pumps present in the lymph vessel walls. Lymphedema is a condition that arises when the lymph vessels are unable to effectively drain lymph fluid, commonly affecting an arm or leg.
The following are the most common causes of lymphedema:
- Cancer: If cancer cells block the lymphatic vessels, it may lead to the development of lymphedema. This can occur when a tumor near a lymph node or vessel grows and swells, obstructing the normal flow of lymphatic fluid. In some cases, surgery for breast cancer may involve the removal of lymph nodes located under the skin of the arms, which could potentially cause harm to the surrounding lymphatic vessels.
- Radiation therapy: The skin can become inflamed and the lymphatic circulation system can be strained as a result of radiation therapy. Additionally, radiation therapy can cause scarring and damage to the lymphatic system.
- Surgery: During cancer surgery, the removal of lymph nodes is a common procedure to determine if cancer has spread. However, the removal of lymph nodes does not necessarily result in lymphedema. Nevertheless, lymphedema may develop following the surgical removal of pelvic lymph nodes.
- Trauma: The lymphatic system is a complex network of vessels that lies both deep within the body and underneath the surface. Lymphedema can occasionally result from bodily trauma that damages the lymphatic veins under the skin.
- Parasites. Infection with worms that clog lymph nodes is the most frequent cause of lymphedema in tropical developing countries.
- Heart conditions: People with heart problems, particularly congestive heart failure, may be at risk of developing lymphedema as the lymphatic fluid is returned to the heart through the lymphatic channels. If the heart is not functioning properly, individuals may notice weight gain or swelling in their legs due to the accumulation of lymphatic fluid.
- Blood vessel issues: The vascular system, specifically the blood vessels, is responsible for transporting approximately 80% to 90% of the body’s fluid. If anything affects the blood vessels, individuals may experience persistent vascular problems. In some cases, long-term blood vessel problems can lead to the development of lymphedema.
- Kidney problem: The kidneys play a crucial role in eliminating extra fluid and waste materials from the body. However, if the kidneys are not functioning properly, the body may struggle to eliminate excess fluid. This can lead to an accumulation of fluid, which may ultimately result in the development of lymphedema.
- Lack of activity: The leg muscles play an important role in improving lymphatic circulation. When a patient fails to move their legs, it can result in leg swelling due to poor lymphatic flow.
Lymphedema is less commonly caused by inheritable disorders that prevent the normal development of the lymphatic system.
Lymphedema risk factors may be increased by the following:
- Age: It is commonly affects older people.
- Body weight: People with excess weight or obesity have higher risk of developing lymphedema.
- Other disease: Having pre-existing diseases such as rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis increases the risk.