What is Lymphedema?

The lymphatic system’s function is to collect waste products, bring them to the lymph nodes, and filter them with cells called lymphocytes. However, when a person has Lymphedema, the lymph vessels are damaged or obstructed, which causes fluid retention and swelling. There are two kinds of lymphedemas: primary and secondary.

Primary lymphedema, or hereditary lymphedema, is a rarer congenital condition, while secondary lymphedma can be caused by infections or unidentifable damage to a previously healthy lymphatic system. For instance, secondary lymphedema can often occur after a person is treated for cancer—especially breast cancers. Radiation therapies or lymph node surgery can also cause scar tissue to build up and affect the lymphatic system.

What are the Symptoms of Lymphedema?

Lymphedema’s main symptom is swelling, especially in the hands, feet, legs, and arms. Other signs include fibrosis, tightness in the skin, a restricted range of motion, or infections that keep coming back.

How is Lymphedema Treated?

Although lymphedema cannot be cured, it is a manageable condition. Compression treatments can be used, which is a form of therapy where specially designed garments and stocking are worn on the limbs to increase lymph flow, increase mobility, and reduce swelling.

A lymphatic massage can also improve symptoms, since massage therapists experienced in this therapy are able to figure out areas of obstruction and increase lymphatic flow. Regular exercise and a good skin care regimen can also help those with lymphedema.

Last Reviewed:
October 06, 2016
Last Updated:
September 01, 2017
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