Lymphedema Commonly Causes Severe Swelling

Feb 15, 2021

Lymphedema is the term used to describe abnormal swelling in the arms, legs, face, or abdomen. It is most commonly the result of lymph node issues. This condition can be the result of removal or damage to the lymph nodes. The swelling is caused by a build-up of lymphatic fluid that is typically managed by the lymph nodes. When lymph nodes cannot function properly, lymph fluid accumulates in the areas affected by lymphatic dysfunction. Lymphedema is a long-term condition that can pose some serious health risks if left untreated. In order to prevent further health issues and adequately address the swelling, it is important to understand as much as possible about this condition and the best ways to deal with it, including potential causes, identifying symptoms, and how to avoid complications.

Causes of Lymphedema

The body’s lymphatic system plays an important role. It has the primary function of filtering and circulating lymph fluid throughout the body. As lymph fluid circulates, it collects certain waste products, viruses, and bacteria from around the body. Lymphocytes, a special type of white blood cell, then filters out these bad things and flush it from the body.

Lymph is also rich in large plasma proteins. Without proper function, these proteins cannot be filtered properly, resulting in an excessive amount of lymph fluid. Bacteria feed on this excess protein, creating a high risk for infection. Primary lymphedema is rare and has a direct link to genetic abnormalities. Secondary lymphedema, in contrast, is more common and results from damage to the lymphatic system.

Symptoms of Lymphedema

One of the most noticeable symptoms of lymphedema is the swelling, often occurring in the arms, legs, fingers and toes. Due to the swelling, an aching sensation is often felt as pressure on tissues and bones occurs. Sufferers may also experience a decrease in range of motion in the affected area. The skin may feel tight as well.

Some sufferers, or doctors, may notice other symptoms in addition to the most common ones. An increasing amount of infections, particularly in cuts and scrapes on the skin of the affected area may occur due to the increased bacterial activity. Thickening or hardening of the skin, also called fibrosis, may occur. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. For instances of lymphedema following cancer treatments, symptoms can take months to appear.

Treating Lymphedema

Unfortunately, lymphedema cannot be cured. Treatment efforts focus on pain and swelling control as well as prevention of complications. Common methods for reducing pain and swelling from lymphedema include wearing compression garments, manual lymph massage, and light exercising.

Compression garments are designed to provide light to moderate pressure around the entire affected area, encouraging lymph fluid to disperse out of the area. Manual lymph massage involves massaging lymph nodes near the affected area to trigger function and force lymph fluid flow. Light exercising, in conjunction with compression garments, can encourage drainage and help improve mobility. Prevention efforts are focused at reducing the risk of infection through cuts or scrapes, including regular skin cleansing and moisturizing.

It is vital to seek medical attention if abnormal swelling and infections occur. Medical staff must be able to address any issues that arise before damage occurs. Although lymphedema cannot be permanently cured, symptoms can be reduced in order to function more normally.

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