Lymphedema, chronic swelling, is caused by inadequate drainage of lymph ?uid, and can happen anywhere on the body, though it’s most common in the arms and legs.
Currently, 2 million people in the United States face the painful and potentially dangerous swelling of their limbs caused by lymphedema. If it’s not treated quickly and properly, the swollen area is more likely to become injured and infected, causing pain, inconvenience and sometimes even disability.
The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system. Part of its role is to collect bacteria and excess proteins from the tissues and return them to the bloodstream for elimination from the body. The lymphatic system also produces lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) for the immune system.
Lymphedema begins as a soft, ?uid-?lled swelling anywhere on the body, though usually in the arms or legs. The affected area may also become in?amed. Eventually, the area may thicken and the skin may break down. Patients may experience pain, a change in sensation or “heaviness” of the affected limb, diminished range of movement, or strength and/or difficulty performing normal activities. Skin breakdown, chronic wounds and recurrent cellulitis (infection of the skin and underlying tissues) are also symptoms of lymphedema.
There are two types of lymphedema, primary and secondary. Primary lymphedema is genetic and may develop at any time for unknown reasons. Secondary lymphedema is more common. It usually results from lymph node resection, radiation therapy, trauma and/or scarring from infection. Lymphedema is caused by any obstacle, which impairs normal functioning of the lymphatic system. Such obstacles typically result from:
There are a number of treatment options available. A specific program is tailored to the needs of each patient. Treatments may include:
Lymphedema is a stagnant pool of protein-rich fluid. It provides a host environment for bacteria and, if untreated, increases the chance of infection in the affected area. In addition, due to persistent swelling, the patient may experience pain, heaviness and/or loss of function of the affected extremity, resulting in a disruption of normal activities.
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