Lymphedema treatment

When a person is suffering from an obstruction in the lymphatic system, the condition is known as lymphedema. When someone suffers lymphedema, fluid is retained in the body, which then causes the body’s tissues to swell. People suffering lymphedema are at risk for infection when fluids of the body, such as interstitial fluid, are returned to the blood stream, putting the patient at great risk for infection.

So what causes lymphedema and what can we do about it? Lymphedema is thought to have a number of causes. For one, lymphedema is thought to be inherited from a mother or father. Lymphedema is also thought to occur due to an injury to the lymphatic vessels. This injury often happens after lymph node dissection, surgery or radiation therapy, most often radiation therapy which was prescribed in the treatment of cancer. Breast cancer sufferers seem to be at highest risk for lymphedema. But those are not the only reported causes of lymphedema. This condition can also be caused simply by accidents or any disease that attacks the lymphatic system and keeps it from performing its normal functions. For example, filariasis – a parasitic infection – is a common culprit in cases of lymphedema for sufferers in the tropical parts of the world.

No matter what causes lymphedema, it generally occurs due to poorly developed or even entirely missing lymph nodes in the body. Because lymphedema has to do with a bodily defect, it is sometimes found at birth. Other times, it is found at the onset of puberty in young adults. That said, it is known that lymphedema affects both men and women and often shows up after cancer treatment, especially treatment for breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, or uterine cancer. Interestingly, lymphedema occurrences have been linked to airplane flight. If you are a breast cancer sufferer or survivor and must fly, ask your doctor about the proper compression sleeves and gauntlets that you should be outfitted with before taking off in an airplane.

The signs and symptoms of lymphedema include a severe and persistent fatigue, a limb feeling heavy or swollen, fluid retention in a localized area of the body, discoloration of the skin (overlying the area where the lymphedema is occurring), and eventually deformity called elephantiasis.

Fortunately, there are several treatments for lymphedema. Generally, the lymphedema treatment prescribed by a doctor will coincide with the duration and severity of the lymphedema, as well as the degree of fibrosis affecting the limb. For example, most doctors prescribe a daily regimen of activity for people suffering from lymphedema. One lymphedema treatment is a lymphatic massage, where a doctor or lymphatic therapist uses compression garments or tight bandaging and then pumps the area in order to massage it. Doctors may also prescribe complex decongestive physiotherapy. This lymphedema treatment is a regimen of lymphatic massage, combined with skin care and the regular wearing of compressive garments. If you are suffering from lymphedema, doctors may prescribe a combination of the above treatments, or perhaps only one or two of the lymphedema treatments individually.

Whatever lymphedema treatment your doctor chooses, chances are it will involve the wearing of compression garments. These garments are either fitted to you specifically or bought over the counter in standard sizes. Doctors will likely tell you to wear the garment every single day to maintain your treatment and to reduce edema. Even if your doctor deems compression garments unnecessary, they may prescribe tight bandaging or wrapping as a method of treating the affected area. No matter what treatment is prescribed, it is important to keep an open dialogue with your doctor about your lymphedema treatment.

Last updated on Oct 2nd, 2010 and filed under Cardiovascular Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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