WHAT IS LYMPHEDEMA
Lymphedema is the swelling of a body part caused by the abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid. It is a chronic and progressive condition that continues to worsen over time when left untreated.
The Lymphatic system consists of lymph vessels, ducts, and nodes. It's role is to filter the lymph fluid waste products such as bacteria and toxins. Additionally, it stores and produces white blood cells that are vital in fighting infections.
The surgical removal of lymph nodes due to different types of cancers such as throat cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma, and many others followed by radiation, may lead to an abnormal swelling of the affected area.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Let your Doctor know if you experience any of these symptoms in the affected area:
A heavy feeling.
A tight sensation.
Swelling of the affected body part.
Shirt/pant sleeves or jewelry that feel tight.
Skin that may "pit" with your finger pressure.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Those who have had lymph nodes removed or have undergone radiation therapy are at risk of lymphedema. It can occur weeks after surgery, within a few months or even years after treatment. Following precautions recommended by a physical/lymphedema therapist may reduce the risk of getting lymphedema.
STAGES OF LYMPHEDEMA
This stage is also known as a Subclinical, or Pre-Stage of lymphedema. In this stage patients have undergone surgery (or had trauma) involving the lymphatic system and have not experienced lymphedema but are at high risk due to their medical history.
Known as the Reversible Stage, it is characterized by mild swelling, specially by the end of the day. It may reside with rest and elevation.
MLD and a compression sleeve is recommended to prevent progression to a Stage 2.
Known as Spontaneously Irreversible, a progression from stage 1, fluid does not go away with rest nor elevation. This stage may require MLD and bandaging to reduce swelling and prevent fibrosis.
Also known as Lymphostatic Elephantiasis, typical for this stage is an increase in volume of the affected area with hardened tissue, firmness, skin alterations, cysts, infections, and even papillomas. Even though condition is very advanced, treatment is available for this stage.