Lymphedema (Lymphatic Obstruction): Symptoms and Causes

Lymphedema
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Lymphedema is referred to as the condition that causes one or more of the legs or arms to get swollen due to fluid buildup. This condition often occurs in individuals who recently had a surgery in which there was damage to their lymph nodes, or they were removed.

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For instance, it’s been estimated that almost 40% of individuals who have had breast cancer surgery will experience it, especially since the procedure generally involves a sentinel lymph node biopsy.

This is commonly referred to as secondary lymphedema. Primary lymphedema is a type that occurs on its own. Meaning it is not caused by injury or any health condition. Primary lymphedema can affect children that are born with missing or impaired lymph nodes.

Generally, lymphedema is commonly caused by an infection known as Wuchereria bancrofti roundworms. This is called lymphatic filariasis, and according to WHO (World Health Organization), Wuchereria bancrofti roundworms are responsible for over 15 million people being infected with lymphedema worldwide.

People with the condition generally experience symptoms characterized by pain and discomfort. Early detection is essential, as it helps to remedy the health issue quickly.

Individuals with lymphedema should consult with their doctor if they notice persistent swelling in the limbs, especially if they have recently undergone a procedure that has affected their lymph nodes.

Treatment

There is presently no cure for lymphedema. Nevertheless, there are several ways to treat the condition. Though surgeries can be done to remove excess fluid and tissue, this procedure is an option that is only considered in severe cases.

It is highly unlikely that your doctor would immediately recommend surgery if you are diagnosed with lymphedema. They’d probably start with a noninvasive method of treatment known as Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT).

Also referred to as Complex Decongestive Therapy, doctors use CDT to focus on multiple methods of relieving lymph fluid retention that a patient might be experiencing.

Some drainage-based therapies can be adopted while using CDT to treat lymphedema, and they include:

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Wrapping and compression

When using bandages or other compression garments, lymph fluids can be managed by draining fluids from the extremities of a person with lymphedema through pressure. The areas affected usually require being wrapped for up to 24 hours, except during bath-time.

Manual lymphatic drainage

This is focused on manipulating or massaging soft tissue. This can be used to drain the lymphatic fluid of affected patients. CDT providers would usually massage affected areas and show you techniques that can be don’t at home to speed up recovery.

Skincare regimen

Since the most affected part of the body is the skin, individuals suffering from lymphedema need to include special skincare techniques in their treatment plan. It is crucial to maintain a well-moisturized and clean skin. This helps to control possible skin infections.

Exercises

People with lymphedema need to stay physically active. Engaging in physical activities is one of the most efficient ways to promote drainage. Your healthcare provider should be able to advise you on the best workout plan.

Most should include the stimulation of the muscles present in the legs and arms.

Aftercare of CDT

The treatment of lymphedema using CDT can last anywhere between 14 days to 3 months. However, it depends on how severe the condition is and how your body responds to treatment.

After all the intensive treatment is complete, it is advised that patients continue to practice good habits when they get home by wearing compression garments, especially when exercising and at night. This might have to be continued until instructed otherwise by your doctor.

Treatment of lymphatic filariasis

Lymphatic filariasis has been identified as one of the world’s leading causes of disability. One of the common medications used is diethylcarbamazine, and it is used in the treatment of lymphatic filariasis.

Outlook

While there is no cure for the condition, lymphedema can be managed to minimize discomfort. Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor may have to start treatment with wrapping, before recommending physical therapy.

Some people respond to treatment in the early stages of physical therapy alone. Your healthcare provider may recommend the option of compression garments, most especially when flying in an airplane or during physical activity to help keep swollen parts of the body down.

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Since we all react differently to therapy, discuss with your doctor about the best treatment option of lymphedema.

Have you ever treated lymphedema? What treatment methods did you use? Kindly share with us in the comment section below.

Lymphedema
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Oluwafemi Michael
Oluwafemi Michael is an online Mental Health Therapist, Advocate for Mental Health Awareness, a programmer, and also a content creator from Edo state, Akoko-Edo LG.
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