What is Lymphoedema?

Myth 1: Lymphoedema is a swelling that I can take fluid tablets for to get rid of the excess swelling??

Fact: NO

Myth 3: Don't google the word, it will scare the pants off you. The worst case scenarios are very rare. This picture is probably the worst you need to see.

Myth 2: Can lymphoedema be cured?

Fact: Sorry also no.

But it can be managed, but before we can manage it, let's go back to the beginning.

What is lymphoedema and how did I get it?

Lymphoedema is the accumulation of excessive amounts of protein-rich fluid resulting in swelling of of an area of the body. The condition usually affects the limb(s) although it may also involve the trunk, breast, head and neck or genital area.

The lymphatic system is a network of pump houses and channels throughout the body that transports fluid (lymph) from the body tissues back to the bloodstream. Lymphoedema occurs when there is a mechanical failure in this pumping system and it is overloaded and a back log develops in the system, resulting in swelling. You do not develop more fluid in an area even though it is swelling, the body has a certain amount of lymph fluid circulating at any one time in the body, it is a matter of the pump being sluggish and the fluid gets stuck in a particular area.

Secondary lymphoedema is the most common type developing following damage to the lymphatic system. The damage may occur as a result of some cancer treatments including the removal of lymph nodes, following radiotherapy to lymph node groups or with the progression of malignant disease. The onset of lymphoedema may be at any time. It may occur within months of the damage or it may appear years later.

The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre (NBOCC) review of research evidence on secondary lymphoedema states “conservative estimates suggest that 20% of breast cancer survivors will experience secondary lymphoedema."

Key risk factors identified by NBOCC for secondary lymphoedema include, the extent of surgery, radiation treatment and lymph node dissection, with the more nodes that are removed the increased chance of the pump system being overloaded.

What does lymphoedema feel like?

You may notice transient swelling of a limb or other region of the body. Other symptoms may include aching, heaviness, stiffness, limitation of movement, tightness or temperature changes. Clothing, jewellery or shoes may feel tighter. Lymphoedema is not usually a painful condition but some people report pain and tension in an affected limb or body part. Client's report that the swelling associated with lymphoedema is often aggravated by heat, at the end of the day, with overuse, with sustained positions and prolonged inactivity. They report that gentle exercise, elevation, massage and compression can ease their symptoms.

Left untreated, this stagnant, protein-rich fluid of lymphoedema can interfere with wound healing and provides a rich culture medium for bacterial growth that can result in infections such as cellulitis, and skin ulcers.

What should I do?

After surgery that may put you at risk of developing lymphoedema, you should attempt to see a qualified lymphoedema therapist to get some specific exercises and massage techniques to self manage your risk. You may also need to be measured up for a compression garment to wear in at risk situations for example flying on planes.

You will also be educated on the do's and don'ts to give you the best advice to eliminate some associated risk factors of lymphoedema.

Once lymphoedema develops, unfortunetly it is a condition that you will need to manage for life, as there is no cure at this stage.

At Bodyfix Physio, I see a number of amazing patients that have developed lymphoedema post surgery and all of them don't let lymphoedema stand in the way of enjoying life. They have learnt to live with lymphoedema as an everyday acceptance.

maintain the volume and protein concentration of the extracellular fluid in the body and to assist the immune system in destroying pathogens and removing waste products from the tissues. co

Featured Posts