DEFINITION, as per Society of Vascular Surgery:
Our lymphatic system is composed of lymph channels and lymph nodes, whose job it is to carry lymph fluid to the tissues and help filter out waste products before returning fluid into the blood circulation. Lymphedema is defined as a buildup of clear lymphatic fluid in the soft tissues of the body, most commonly in the arms or legs.
Or as Dr. Silva likes to say, it could be swelling for no good reason.
There are 2 types of lymphedema:
1. Primary or Inherited – born lacking lymph vessels and nodes
2. Secondary or Acquired – disruption in the lymph channels of the body from surgery, trauma or injury. This is the most common type and can be delayed many years after initial injury
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS:
- Chronic swelling in an arm or leg that may be persistent or come and go
- Aching, tightness, heaviness in a limb
- Less flexibility in the wrist or ankle from swelling
Talk with your doctor about any unusual swelling that you may have, especially if it is causing you discomfort. Then your doctor may order a test to evaluate the reason for the swelling and test to evaluate if you have lymphedema. MRI, CT scan, or duplex ultrasound may be ordered.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphedema. The condition is treated with maintenance and preventative measures. You may be referred to a Vascular specialist such as Horizon Vascular Specialists to discuss and manage your condition.
Compression therapy such as knee high support stockings or ACE wraps of the affected limb can help force fluid out of the limb and into the body. A lymphedema pump may be ordered by your doctor to help massage the fluid out of the legs, or you may be referred to a lymphedema clinic at your local hospital. Excellent skin care is important, including keeping the limb clean, dry and well moisturized. Do not cross your legs, if you have leg swelling, as it makes it more difficult for your legs to drain fluid up and out.