Have you noticed unusual swelling in your body? Do you have swelling in an arm or a leg or even in your torso? You might be suffering from lymphedema, a buildup of lymph fluid. The swelling indicates that your body's lymph system cannot handle the amount of fluid. Do not ignore these symptoms because complications from infection can occur. Contact your therapist or physician.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
Possible Causes of Lymphedema
For more information, check out these helpful websites:
National Lymphedema Network, http://www.lymphnet.org
Lymph Notes www.lymphnotes.org
Lymphovenous Canada www.lymphovenous-canada.ca
Lymphedema Support Network www.lymphoedema.org/Isn (Britain)
Lymphoedema Network Australia www.lymphoedema.org.au
Lymphedema is a collection of fluid that causes swelling (edema) in the arms and legs.
What causes lymphedema?
One of the causes of lymphedema is surgery to remove lymph nodes , usually during cancer treatment. Normally, lymph nodes filter fluid as it flows through them, trapping bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances, which are then destroyed by special white blood cells called lymphocytes. Without normal lymph drainage, fluid can build up in the affected arm or leg, and lymphedema can develop. Medicines such as tamoxifen (Nolvadex), radiation therapy , and injury to the lymph nodes can also cause lymphedema. This type is called secondary lymphedema.
Primary lymphedema can be present at birth or develop during puberty or adulthood. The cause of primary lymphedema is not known.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of lymphedema include feeling as though your clothes, rings, wristwatches, or bracelets are too tight; a feeling of fullness in your arms or legs; and less flexibility in your wrists, hands, and ankles.
How is it treated?
Treatment for lymphedema depends on its cause and includes wearing compression garments such as stockings or sleeves, proper diet and skin care, and fluid drainage.
Elevating an arm or leg that has swelling can help ease the drainage of lymph fluid from the affected limb. Whenever possible, rest a swollen arm or leg on a comfortable surface, above the level of your heart. Don't put pressure on your armpit or groin area, and don't hold a limb up without support for very long since this can increase swelling.
Gentle exercise can help reduce swelling. The use of muscles during exercise naturally helps lymph fluid to circulate, which can reduce swelling. But exercise also increases blood flow to the muscles being used, which can increase the amount of lymph fluid present. If you have swelling, it is important to properly bandage an affected limb before exercising. Ask your doctor how to use a bandage for this purpose and what exercises are appropriate for your condition.
After surgery or radiation treatment
If you have had surgery to remove some lymph nodes, use your affected arm or leg as normally as possible. Most people are healed about 4 to 6 weeks after surgery, and able to go back to their normal activities.
If you have had lymph nodes removed or have had radiation therapy as part of cancer treatment, you may be able to avoid lymphedema or keep it under control by following the tips below.
Contact your doctor promptly if symptoms of an infection—such as redness, pain, or increased swelling—develop in your arm, hand, leg, or foot.
Protect the area below the surgery from injury, even many years after surgery.
If you have had lymph nodes removed from under your arm:
If you have had lymph nodes removed from your groin:
Lymphedema is swelling caused by a build-up of fluid, usually in the arm in women who have been treated for breast cancer. Lymphedema is one of the most troubling complications that can develop after breast cancer surgery. Many women find that lymphedema worsens the physical and emotional strain of dealing with breast cancer.
The risk of developing lymphedema depends upon the type of surgery you had, the time since surgery, and if radiation therapy was used. Generally, women who undergo more extensive surgery, have many lymph nodes removed, or have radiation therapy to the axilla (arm pit) after surgery are more likely to develop lymphedema
WHAT IS LYMPHEDEMA?
Lymph is a clear fluid that contains mostly protein and white blood cells (the blood cells that fight infection). Lymph vessels drain lymph from the body's tissues and organs. The fluid is filtered through lymph nodes (also called glands) and eventually drains into the bloodstream.
Lymphedema can develop if surgery or radiation treatment affects the lymph vessels.
Women who have multiple lymph nodes removed (a full axillary node dissection) are more likely to develop lymphedema than those who have only sentinel lymph node biopsy. Women who have both surgery and radiation treatment are at even higher risk.
The initial symptoms of lymphedema may include:
PREVENTING WORSENING OF LYMPHEDEMA
Women with lymphedema can do several things to prevent it from getting worse over time. Expert groups recommend the following:
Contact your doctor or nurse if the affected arm develops a rash, becomes red, blistered, or warm, or if you get a fever (temperature greater than 100.4ºF or 38ºC). These symptoms could signal the beginning or worsening of lymphedema.
If you develop lymphedema many years after surgery or have worsening lymphedema, contact your doctor or nurse immediately.
IMPACT OF LYMPHEDEMA
While lymphedema is not a life-threatening condition, it can have a major impact on your quality of life. A change in how your arm looks can be distressing.
The following organizations also provide reliable health information.