Lymphedema, a condition that generally refers to the swelling of an extremity, is most frequently caused by damage or removal of one’s lymph nodes. When these lymph nodes get damaged an abnormal amount of high protein fluid forms just beneath the skin, causing heaviness and fullness in the affected area. The swelling can be mild or more severe and is not easily combated. What is even more difficult to grasp, is the swelling doesn’t always happen immediately following the impairment, rather it can pop up days, months, or even years later, and it is not always just temporary.
Many categorize lymphedema as a side effect of cancer treatment, but it is important to remember that this condition is not always developed through cancer. The lymphatic system makes up a portion of the immune system and aids in fighting off infection, which could be cancer cells or bacteria, viruses, disease, etc. When any unwanted substances compromise the system, the body works to filter them out of the bloodstream and out of your body.
Sadly, the body can’t always keep up because the lymph nodes have been damaged or removed and are no longer there to help. While any remaining nodes will go into overdrive trying to fend off the foreign substances, the protein fluid continues to form and can eventually build up within your soft tissue. This fluid accumulation is what causes the painful inflammation just beneath the skin’s surface. This swollen attribute is referred to as edema, and it can appear in several areas. Some of the most common areas are the arms, legs, hands, breasts or abdomen. The build-up of fluid is typically gradual so it’s important to note the first signs and symptoms associated with its onset:
- Heaviness or a sensation of fullness in an extremity or breast.
- Less flexibility and tightness felt with joint movement.
- Swelling with a slight puffiness and redness to the affected area. A good indicator is a piece of clothing that has sudden become too tight to wear (i.e. watch, bra, socks).
- Lower or upper extremities that have become warm to the touch.
- Skin becomes smoother and veins are less pronounced.
- Increased discomfort and tingling that feels like pins/needles.
Noticing and addressing the symptoms of lymphedema early on can be very beneficial. Unfortunately there is currently no cure for lymphedema, however, there are treatments that can help mitigate the pain and reduce the severity of the swelling:
- Light exercise of the affected area helps encourage drainage of the fluid.
- Therapeutic massages assist in the reduction of fluid from congested areas.
- Clean the skin regularly and apply sensitive moisturizers to keep dry, cracking skin at a minimum.
- Elevate the affected limb when possible.
- Wear compression garments or wrap limbs to encourage lymphatic drainage.
- Stay away from constrictive clothing (seems like a funny one to follow support garments, but trust us, leave the compressing aspect to specialized garments).
- Maintain an optimal weight to reduce risk.
A positive outlook, while not always easy, can help keep one’s mind at ease. Remember that the body is a precious vessel and taking care of it is the most important. The above treatment recommendation might not work for all cases, but we want to remind everyone patience is key. Setting some extra time for treatment will not only feel good, but it will make the activities of the day more manageable, as well as slow down the advancement of the condition.
The resources for lymphedema are quite plentiful with a quick Google search. We found www.lymphnet.org and www.lymphaticnetwork.org were great starting points for learning more. Whether you were just hoping to gain insight about lymphedema for a family member, friend, or yourself, we’re glad you found us. If we can help recommend any products or even direct you to another resource we’re glad to help. Wondering where to start in the compression realm? We think Solidea’s Micro-Massage garments work wonders on stimulating capillary circulation, so be sure to check them out first. As always, let us know if we can answer any questions or make recommendations.