Lymphatic system is a network of lymph nodes and lymph vessels secreting lymph fluid; fluid that consists of protein, fats, water and wastes. It drains excess tissue fluid, filters waste products, carries fats absorbed from the intestine to blood and produces immune cells to fight infections.
Lymphedema is protein-rich fluid retention in the bodily tissues which eventually lead to abnormal swelling and particularly affect the arms and legs. It occurs when the lymphatic system fails to drain enough lymph fluid from the body tissues.
Types of lymphedema
- Primary lymphedema: lymphatic vessel damage or insufficiency caused by congenital defects.
- Secondary lymphedema: lymphedema because of an injury to the lymphatic vessels.
Causes of lymphedema
Primary lymphedema is a rare condition. It generally occurs because of congenitally imperfect development of lymph nodes or vessels such as Milroy disease, Meige disease and late-onset lymphedema. On the other hand, secondary lymphedema is usually caused by surgery or radiation treatment for cancer (such as breast, ovarian, colon, prostate or testicular cancer) which often damage the lymph nodes or vessels. Other causes of secondary lymphedema include infection (e.g. filariasis, a parasitic infection) and cancer cells.
Symptoms of lymphedema
Symptoms of lymphedema may include swelling, fatigue, hardening skin, tightness and movement difficulty in the affected limbs. In later stage, lymphedema may lead to brawny edema. Related reading: Thigh Swelling – Upper Leg Swelling.
Treatments of lymphedema
- Manual lymphatic drainage by messaging the skin to promote lymph fluid circulation and alleviate swelling
- Compression bandages by wrapping the affected areas with padding and short-stretch bandages
- Light exercise that encourage the flow of lymph fluid from the affected limbs
- Skin care to prevent severe lymphedema and skin ulcers
- Wear compression garments in the affected areas to reduce swelling