Lymphedema

This month's blog post is centered around lymphedema.

March 6th is World Lymphedema Day. This is the day that we as healthcare providers, patients living with the lymphedema, and any advocate helps to spread awareness for this condition all around the world. Visit https://lymphaticnetwork.org/wld/ for more information.


Let's start with what is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is an abnormal accumulation of protein-rich fluid in the tissue which can result in the swelling of a body part.

There are two types of lymphedema; primary and secondary. Primary lymphedema occurs from birth or can develop later in life due to a dysfunction of the lymphatic system. Secondary lymphedema occurs when there is damage to the lymphatic system; trauma, radiation, or surgery. When a person with cancer develops lymphedema this is called secondary lymphedema.


What are the signs and symptoms of lymphedema?

Lymphedema usually develops slowly over time. This means that the earliest signs are not usually detectable to the naked eye. A person will usually feel a difference in his or her limb before swelling actually occurs. Changes that a person may feel are; heaviness, achiness, tightness, and fullness. This would be considered stage 1 lymphedema. As swelling starts to occur, sleeves or pant legs may feel tighter on one side, rings and/or shoes may feel like a person has gained weight on only 1 limb. As a person starts to see swelling, it will manifest usually at the end of the day and go away overnight. As swelling intensifies, the swelling does not go away, elevation helps but it does not completely resolve the swelling, this is stage 2 lymphedema. Stage 3 lymphedema is characterized by changes in the skin, such as; skin hardening (fibrosis), nail changes, and cellulitis infections will occur more often.



Swelling will only occur in the area of lymph node removal or lymph system damage. For example, if a person has radiation to his or her neck as a result of esophageal cancer, swelling will only be present in the neck or facial region.



If a person has radiation to the lymph nodes in their groin or pelvis due to endometrial or colorectal cancer, they will have swelling in the leg or genital region.




What is the treatment for lymphedema?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphedema, this is a lifelong condition. It is important to know the signs and get treatment early.

Physical, Occupational, and Massage Therapists who are trained in complete decongestive therapy (CDT) called certified lymphedema therapists (CLT's) are qualified to treat this condition. You can find a CLT in your area by visiting, https://www.clt-lana.org/search/therapists/. At Be Strong Therapy, we have TWO CLT's on staff.

CDT combines four components: