Lymphedema: Symptoms, Causes, and Products that Can Help

  • Mar - 01 - 2021

Hand writing lymphedema with markerLymphedema is a condition in which a patient’s arm or leg swells significantly due to removal of or damage to the lymph nodes. This condition can significantly inhibit a patient’s range of motion and cause pain or discomfort, as well as putting you at risk of other complications. What causes lymphedema, and what can you do to more effectively treat this condition? Keep reading to learn what you need to know about lymphedema.

What Causes It?

As mentioned above, lymphedema usually occurs as a result of damage to or removal of your lymph nodes. This most commonly occurs as a side effect of cancer or cancer treatment, and is commonly referred to as secondary lymphedema. If the cancerous cells themselves block lymphatic vessels and the flow of lymph fluid, this can lead to lymphedema. More commonly, surgery that removes the lymph nodes or damages the lymph nodes (such as the removal of breast cancer) can lead to lymphedema.

There are also certain inherited diseases that can cause lymphedema, though these are very rare. Lymphedema not caused by lymph node damage or removal is known as primary lymphedema, and can be caused by the following types of illnesses:

  • Milroy’s disease, which causes abnormal formation of the lymph nodes in infancy
  • Meige’s disease, which can cause lymphedema around puberty or during pregnancy
  • Late-onset lymphedema, which occurs rarely and begins after age 35

Whatever the root cause of your lymphedema, the key issue is that your lymphatic system is no longer able to perform its function properly. Your lymphatic system circulates lymph fluid through your body to collect viruses, bacteria, and waste products, then filters them out of your body. When your lymph vessels are unable to properly drain lymph fluid from a part of your body, this is when the swelling known as lymphedema occurs.

What Are the Symptoms?

The most obvious symptom of lymphedema is an abnormally swollen limb. This typically occurs in one arm or leg, but it is possible for the swelling to appear in multiple limbs. You may also experience a heaviness or tightness in the area, along with aching or discomfort. Your range of motion may also be restricted for that limb, and you may notice a hardening or thickening of your skin, known as fibrosis. These symptoms can range from mild and barely noticeable, to severely debilitating.

It’s important to note that symptoms of lymphedema don’t always appear immediately after the injury to or removal of the lymph node. If you’ve had surgery or cancer treatment, you may not experience lymphedema for months or years afterwards. Untreated lymphedema can lead to serious bacterial infections, so it’s important to remain vigilant and pay attention to any of these kinds of changes in your body.

Can It Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, there’s very little that you can do to prevent lymphedema, as the damage to your lymphatic system is usually outside of your control. However, you can take steps to properly care for any limb impacted by surgery or cancer treatment. Protect the affected limb from sharp objects, rest your arm or leg while recovering, and keep it clean. Avoid applying heat or wearing restrictive clothing on the limb, and elevate it whenever possible.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before any surgery or cancer treatment to determine how the procedure might impact your lymph nodes and lymph vessels, so you’re aware of the possible risks.

Can It Be Treated?

Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for lymphedema. However, treatments can reduce the swelling and control the pain so that your lymphedema doesn’t impact your quality of life. Here are some common treatments that can help:

  • Light exercise, as prescribed by your doctor or therapist
  • A special kind of massage technique to help lymph fluid drain out of your arm or leg
  • Compression garments, which helps encourage the flow of lymphatic fluids by gently squeezing the affected limb
  • Pneumatic compression, which inflates and deflates intermittently to encourage fluid circulation

It’s important that you do not attempt any of these above treatments without first consulting with your doctor. While compression products might seem straightforward, it’s important that you know what level of compression you need and how often you should be using it.

If you’ve spoken to your doctor and know what lymphedema therapy products you need, contact us at Elixair Medical. We can supply you with the proper lymphedema pumps and sleeves to treat your swelling and discomfort. We accept Medicare, Medi-Cal, Contracted HMOs, private and secondary insurance, as well as worker’s comp.