Lymphedema is an uncomfortable, often unsightly swelling of the limbs or other parts of the body that comes in two forms: primary lymphedema and secondary lymphedema. Primary lymphedema starts from birth and is usually due to abnormalities in the lymphatic system that affects the lymph nodes. This can occur in both men and women and is the rarer of the two types.
Secondary lymphedema is generally caused by damage to the lymph nodes. Lymph node damage includes but is not limited to: radiation or other cancer treatments, infections, surgery, trauma or injury, and immobility and obesity. The last two are usually linked. When a person is immobile, the lymph fluids within the body do not cycle as they should, which causes backup of lymph fluid that collects in certain areas of the body. This occurs most commonly in the arms and legs. One of the arms or legs may swell which not only looks unsightly, but can cause discomfort. Signs of secondary lymphedema include a tight feeling in the skin, a redness or rash on the skin, discomfort of clothing, watches, bracelets, rings and other accessories, and a noticeable difference in the symmetry of the limbs. Not all cases of lymphedema are marked by noticeable swelling, though. Sometimes, cases of lymphedema are more mild and are marked only by tightness, tenderness and slight puffiness.
While there is no particular cure for lymphedema, there are numerous options for lymphedema treatment and symptom management. There are surgical options for drainage, but it will not cure the lymphedema. There are other ways of treatment that patients generally prefer to try before resorting to surgical options.
Compression is one of the more commonly prescribed treatments for lymphedema and can help with the swelling and flow of lymph fluid. There are numerous different types of compression bandages and compression stockings that promote flow of lymph fluid in the affected limbs such as arms or legs. Exercise is also a way to manage symptoms, but only if the patient is not too uncomfortable or if the exercises don’t cause too much pain. Exercise may be one of the treatments suggested after other methods of treatment have been explored. Another method of symptom management in lymphedema is massage, called manual lymph drainage or MLD. Manual lymph drainage is a specific type of massage technique that should be done by a highly trained specialist. Specialists in this type of treatment can be found at clinics like Avicenna Acupuncture where patients can also get treatment for different types of pain management like fibromyalgia, shoulder pain, neck pain, migraines, knee pain and more.
It’s also important for patients to learn about proper skincare as lymphedema symptoms can cause rashes, infections and more. While there are options for medicated topical treatments in the case of infection, some people also prefer to use more natural skincare options such as organic oils and essential oils. Lymphedema care usually requires a multi-pronged approach to treatment that takes commitment from both the patient and the specialists who treat them.