Our bodies have a network of vessels and nodes that drain and carry lymph fluid which is very similar to the way blood vessels move blood through the body. This lymph fluid contains proteins, white blood cells, salts, and water. Lymph nodes work to filter out harmful substances such as bacteria, viruses, or cancer cells. The lymphatic system helps us fight infection.
Lymphedema occurs when there is a build-up of lymph fluid in the tissues. This causes swelling, mostly in the arms or legs. This swelling can become chronic and trigger changes in your skin and tissues that put you at risk for additional swelling, infections, and decreased mobility.
Primary Lymphedema can be present at birth, develop at the onset of puberty, or in adulthood. These people are born with genes that put them at a risk of developing lymphedema because lymph nodes or vessels are missing or not working correctly.
Secondary Lymphedema is the result of damage or changes to the lymph system. Surgeries, injuries, venous insufficiency, arthritis, and obesity are some of the causes of lymph vessel and lymph node damage. Some cancer treatments that are necessary to save lives can cause damage to the lymphatics. Lymphedema can occur many years after the surgery or damage occurs. Things that increase swelling, such as air travel, can also trigger lymphedema in people with damaged or insufficient lymphatics.
Symptoms of Lymphedema
* If you notice these symptoms or persistent swelling, it is important that you seek immediate medical advice from a lymphedema specialist.
Prompt treatment is important. Seeking and getting treatment early, before lymphedema has progressed, may allow a shorter course of active treatment to control mild, moderate, or severe lymphedema.
Your lymphedema treatment plan will depend upon the cause of your lymphedema. Treatment for lymphedema isn’t passive. You will need to participate in treating and managing your lymphedema.
Your lymphedema care specialist will talk with you about treatment goals, including the tasks and time demands that will be required for you during treatment and realistic expectations for treatment outcomes. Treatment goals will depend on the severity of your lymphedema and any other health conditions you may have, as well as your ability and willingness to adhere to treatment recommendations, such as bandaging your limb.
Lymphedema treatment may include a combination of elements such as:
Certification Makes a Difference
The Licensed Occupational and Physical Therapists who provide the Lymphedema specialty services at MultiCare Health System are certified in Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT). They hold certification from the Lymphology Association of North America (LANA), or are working toward that certification with required instruction, clinical practice time, and testing procedures.