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Managing Lymphedema

Managing Lymphedema
Razia Sanwari

Lymphedema is a swelling in the arm or leg caused by retention of fluid due to a blockage or damage in the lymphatic system. This condition prevents lymph fluid from draining properly leading to accumulation and swelling. Fluid starts to build up in the interstitial space causing enlargement of the affected area. This may occur in either one arm or one leg or may affect both arms or both legs.

There are many ladies out there who are concerned with the development of Lymphedema. One out of five women is affected by lymphedema who have had breast cancer treatment. In many cases symptoms take time to appear that could range from months to even years. There are specialists, surgeons and support communities that can help women to manage the condition.

What Causes Lymphedema?

Lymphedema causes are either primary or secondary. In the first instance, the condition is inherent and not caused by any external circumstances but secondary lymphedema results from injury or the removal of lymph nodes.

Types of Lymphedema

Idiopathic or Primary Lymphedema

This is a rare occurrence and a result of abnormal development of the lymph vessels. There are three causes of primary lymphedema – Milroy’s disease, Meige’s disease or lymphedema tarda. Milroy’s disease is congenital and sets in during infancy. It is characterized by the abnormal development of the lymph nodes. Meige’s disease or lymphedema praecox is a hereditary disorder in which the valves that prevent the lymph fluid from flowing backwards are not formed. This condition typically affects the lower legs and feet. It may set in before or after puberty and even at a later stage. Lymphedema tarda is a rare condition which sets in late, that is after the age of 35.

Primary lymphedema is mainly caused by genetics. The initial symptoms include:

  • Feeling of heaviness in arms
  • Tightness in skin
  • Swelling in the affected area

Secondary Lymphedema

Secondary lymphedema is a condition that leads to swelling. It happens when one of the body’s defense mechanism i.e., lymphatic system is compromised.

Lymphatic system acts as one of the natural defenses against any infection. The lymphatic fluid in the fine network of vessels removes bacteria and passes it to the nearest lymph node for cleansing. If the Lymphatic system is damaged then the blockage may result in fluid accumulation, causing swelling in the limbs.

Breast Cancer and Lymphedema

Usually, breast cancer patients are found to be afflicted by this condition. Arm lymphedema is a common complication of breast cancer treatment. It happens during treatment when axillary dissection and axillary radiation therapy are used. In such a case, the swelling may not occur immediately but is noticed months or years after treatment.

Symptoms of Lymphedema

  • Mild to severe swelling in a part of the arm or leg or the entire limb, including the fingers and toes.
  • Discomfort and pain in the affected limb.
  • Restricted mobility due to the swelling.
  • Recurring skin infection in the affected limb.
  • A feeling of heaviness or stiffness.
  • Hardening of the skin on the affected area.
  • Blister-like growth on the skin of the affected limb.

Complications of Lymphedema

People with this condition may find that their body is more vulnerable to skin infections and changes. This is because the body does not have a continuous supply of lymphocytes which fight infection. Other complications include restricted mobility, psychological disorders and in rare cases, malignant transformation in which very severe cases of untreated lymphedema can be exposed to the risk of soft tissue cancer.

Controlling Lymphedema

Lymphedema is not curable but controllable. Lymphedema management is more necessary through precautions and use of lymphedema compression garments. Using a lymphedema pump and compression garments can help bring down the swelling. Much research has been carried out by healthcare professionals on this condition. However, one’s personal healthcare provider is best positioned to answer all queries on this medical problem and how to go about lymphedema management.

Self Care For Lymphedema

Though exercise doesn’t cure lymphedema, it can be significantly beneficial in decongesting the swollen limb. Increase in movement of muscles and joints multiply the flow of lymph by 15 times. This helps in managing the swelling of lymphedema.

Protect the body part from situations that could boost the production of lymph fluid. Situations like:

  • Cuts
  • Injury
  • Overuse
  • Extreme temperatures
  • These factors increase the risk of lymphedema
  • Learn the symptoms and signs of infection of lymphedema to immediately act on it.

Treating Lymphedema

Lymphedema therapy for controlling the condition includes measures like exercise, a strict diet to maintain normal body weight, bandaging, lymphatic massage and lymphedema compression garment use. All this help to keep the swelling and pain down. Some may not respond to these conservative methods and for them, there are surgical options, for example, suction-assisted lipectomy which is likely to provide long-term relief.

Lymphedema patients should avoid exposure to high temperatures and try not to sleep on the arm over prolonged periods. Lymphedema in the legs or arms can be treated or controlled through exercise and wrapping the affected limb with a bandage that is tightest around the fingers or toes. For lymphedema management, some people may employ manual lymph drainage technique which can be achieved through massage. Wearing compression garments is an effective measure to control lymphedema. One can wear a lymphedema arm sleeves , lymphedema wraps and conduct lymphedema drainage using a lymphedema pumps.

Wearing a compression garment during air travel may be required for lymphedema management because fall in pressure can cause swelling.

Compression garments that can help curing Lymphedema

Amoena Greta Wire Free Bra

Amoena Greta Wire Free Bra is a front and back closure, soft cup, average to a full fit bra with cotton pockets. With hooks in front and adjustable hooks in the back, it is great for women with restricted mobility from surgery, lymphedema or arthritis. A strong bottom band and power net backing make this fiberfill bra a great fit for the full figure woman. It is made up of 63% polyester, 29% nylon and 8% spandex.

Amoena Greta Wire Free Bra Amoena Greta Wire Free Bra
Amoena Greta Wire Free Bra

Bellisse Compressure Comfort Garment

Bellisse Compressure Comfort Garment is a medical compression garment that facilitates drainage of excess lymphatic fluid in the chest and breast area following breast cancer, and other chest or truncal surgeries. It addresses the specific needs of women with lymphedema, post-surgical discomfort, and post-radiation edema and/or fibrosis. This bra is an innovative approach to chest wall and breast edema following breast or chest surgery.

Bellisse Compressure Comfort Garment Bellisse Compressure Comfort Garment
Bellisse Compressure Comfort Garment

Trulife 327 Charlotte Microfiber Stretch Leisure Mastectomy Bra

Trulife Charlotte Microfiber Stretch Leisure Mastectomy Bra is constructed of all over silky-soft microfiber fabric with delicate lace accents. Recommended for post-surgery or leisure wear, it offers a convenient, easy-to-use front closure and is ideal for women with limited dexterity, arthritis, or lymphedema. Soft, extended microfiber pockets are sewn into both sides for additional comfort.

Trulife 327 Charlotte Microfiber Stretch Leisure Mastectomy Bra Trulife 327 Charlotte Microfiber Stretch Leisure Mastectomy Bra
Trulife 327 Charlotte Microfiber Stretch Leisure Mastectomy Bra

Though we cannot completely cure lymphedeme, with the right kind of guidance and the right use of compression garments and other accessories we can control its spread and reduce the discomfort caused by it.


Disclaimer: All content found on our website, including images, videos, infographics and text were created solely for informational purposes. Our content should never be used for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment of any medical conditions. Content shared on our websites is not meant to be used as a substitute for advice from a certified medical professional. Reliance on the information provided on our website as a basis for patient treatment is solely at your own risk. We urge all our customers to always consult a physician or a certified medical professional before trying or using a new medical product.

HPFY Razia Sanwari

Razia Sanwari

Razia Sanwari is a journalist by profession with more than 20 years of experience in the print media. With a Masters's in English Language and Literature, Razia began her career as a junior editor in a Kolkata English language daily ...

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