Lymphedema is a condition in which damage to the lymphatic system causes the arms or legs to swell to several times their normal size. It also presents the potential for infections or inflammation to occur from the smallest cut or abrasion.
Lymphedema is not as rare a condition as it once was thought to be.
"An estimation of one to two million Americans,
plus 250 million world wide have Lymphedema."
The Lymphatic System
Your lymphatic system is made up of vessels and lymph nodes. The lymph system eliminates waste products and proteins from our tissues. Lymph nodes act as filters to remove infection and waste along the way.
Major groups of lymph nodes exist at several points throughout the body, lymph fluid is filtered at these points. These points include the:
- Cervical region of the neck
- Supratrochlear region in the elbow
- Axillary region in the arm pit
- Iliac region in the abdomen
- Inguinal region in the groin
- Popliteal region in the knee
Who can get Lymphedema?
The onset of Lymphedema can happen immediately after surgery or several years later due to a minor incident such as a cut or an abrasion. Primary Lymphedema occurs when there is a malformation in the lymphatic vessels present at birth Secondary Lymphedema occurs when there is a disruption in the lymphatic system because of trauma, surgery, infection, or scarring from radiation treatments.
Signs and Symptoms of Lymphedema:
- Increase size of limb
- Feeling of warmth in the limb
- Sensation of tightness or heaviness in the limb
- Aching Limb
- Inability to fit into clothing due to increased size of the affected limb
Treatment may include:
- Evaluation-To determine the extent and cause of the lymphedema and develop the appropriate plan of care.
- Manual Lymph Drainage-A gentle massage designed to move lymph fluid towards healthy lymph nodes, and back to the blood stream.
- Multi-layer Compression Bandages- Bandages are used to enhance the muscle pumping mechanism of moving the lymph fluid and to maintain the reduction between sessions.
- Pneumatic Compression- A pump is used to help move fluid out of the limb.
- Skin Care-Education on the importance of preventing skin irritations or cuts to reduce the risk of reoccurrence.
- Therapeutic Exercise -To help enhance lymph drainage
- Fitting of a Compression Garment-Used to maintain reduction of the limb following therapy
Treatment for lymphedema is offered through Bellin's outpatient therapy department. The therapists providing care is certified in the Leduc and Norton Methods of Lymphedema Management.