What is Lymphedema?
First I would need to explain what lymph is just in case you do not know. Lymph is a liquid that nourishes the tissue in blind-end vessels. Lymph travels from your capillaries into the main circulation through the veins in your neck.
Lymphedema is a condition where the soft tissues in the limbs swell; the swelling is caused by excessive build up of the lymph fluid.
Is there more then one type of lymphedema?
There are the primary and the secondary conditions. Primary lymphedema is a not so common condition. The patient is born with this type of lymphedema, which may not be actually identifiable until the effected is in their late teens or even the adulthood.
Secondary lymphedema is caused by injury or damage to the lymphatic system. Sometimes trauma or parasites along with surgery and radiation can also cause this. This may lead to chronic lymphedema if the lymphatic system cannot repair itself.
Is it serious? How can I tell?
Mild conditions can be fixed usually easily as the mild symptoms affect only one part of the body, with little to almost no swelling. The patient may feel some pain and a feeling of extra weight on the limb or an ache or sore feeling.
Moderate condition usually will last over a period of months or years; a decent amount of enlargement can be noticed in the arm: between a half an inch to two inches. Swelling feels quite firm and elevating of the arm does not reduce swelling.
If not treated, severe conditions may turn into elephantitis; symptoms will show over two inches of enlargement, severe swelling, and ulcers. Also and bacterial and fungal infections can occur.
One of the reasons for lymphedema is radiation therapy in cancer patients. Radiation can trigger the lymph nodes to develop. In the breast cancer patients the lymph nodes may start to grow under the armpit.
How can breast cancer patients help reduce their chances of getting lymphedema?
Naturally regular doctor consultations are must. If an infection begins, getting medication prescription is on the top list of the doctor visits. Putting on weight after cancer treatment should be avoided as is prevention of injuries. Also airplane flights and anything that causes the blood to rush to one area too quickly is not recommended.
What are the common lymphedema treatments?
There are multiple ways to treat the condition. Different types of lymphedema will require specific treatments and not all conditions will call for the same treatments. They also vary from person to person.
Most common lymphedema treatments are special compression techniques. They call for a bandaging the limb in a specific way so the lymph in the lymphatic system is forced to flow. Another method involves wrapping in so called a static compression device, which is similar to bandaging. Lymphedema patients will also recognize a lymphedema compression pumps. Those pumps are used in conjunction with the special massage known as manual lymphatic drainage, short MLD.
The manual lymphatic drainage needs to be done by another person; therefore, it is mostly done by professional lymphedema therapist. Although, a family member or friend can be trained in the special massage in order to help the patient to do MLD at home.
The lymphedema patients must take a really good care of the skin and keep it unbroken as they can easily get different kinds of infections. Keeping the weight in check is not the only thing they need think about either. Special exercises for lymphedema patients are recommended because the exercise helps the lymph flow as unlike blood, lymph is not “pumped” by heart and relies on the body movement only
Although the lymphedema can be a very daunting condition, with a proper care and treatment the symptoms can be greatly reduced and help the patient to live a fairly normal life.