LYMPHEDEMA

Lymphedema is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in an area of the body. It is typically in the arms or legs but can also occur in the abdomen and genitals. The lymphatic system picks up extracellular/interstitial fluid (becoming lymphatic fluid) and drains it back into the blood circulation where it can be eventually eliminated. When this system cannot drain properly, fluid builds up in the tissues causing swelling.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF LYMPHEDEMA?

  • Primary Lymphedema is when swelling is caused by a malformation in the structure of the lymphatic system. Swelling may present at birth or it may occur later in life when the lymphatic system can no longer manage the demands placed on it.

  • Secondary Lymphedema occurs due to an injury to the lymphatic vessels leading to decreased efficiency and effectiveness of the lymphatic system. Often this happens due to cancer or cancer treatments such as lymph node removal, radiation, and chemotherapy. It may also occur after trauma. Secondary lymphedema may present quickly after an injury to the system or many years later.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Symptoms IN LEGS may include:

  • Chronic swelling in ankles/feet

  • Needing to change shoe size &/or style of shoes to fit swollen feet

  • Sock tops “dig into” legs

  • “Cankles”

  • “Weeping”

  • Dry, flaky, scaly skin

  • Dark brown “staining” in the lower legs

  • Venous stasis ulcers

  • Cellulitis

  • History of DVT

Symptoms IN ARMS may include:

  • Heaviness

  • Swelling

  • Pain/discomfort at rest or with movement

  • Clothing/jewelry fits tighter on affected arm

Lymphedema is a progressive condition but when addressed early it can be managed very effectively. Even moderate to severe swelling can be reduced and managed. Lack of treatment leads to a greater risk of cellulitis, thickening of the skin tissue (fibrosis), elephantiasis, worsening of swelling, skin breakdown (drying, cracking, flaking, “weeping”) and non-healing wounds/ulcers/sores. Treatment consists of Manual Lymphatic Drainage, Compression (multi-layer compression bandaging and/or compression garments), Meticulous Skin Care, and Decongestive Exercises. A Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT) can effectively treat the swelling and facilitate the patient’s transition into managing their Lymphedema. The Certified Lymphedema Therapist will develop a plan that best addresses the needs of the individual patient.

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