The importance of the lymphatic system for human health is tremendous. Viruses, bacteria and waste are collected by the lymph and transported to lymph nodes where they are filtered. Anything that interferes with the functioning of the lymphatic system can lead to weakened immune response, swelling, shortness of breath and pain.
Lymphedema is one condition that affects the functioning of the lymphatic system. Knowing what it is and getting accurate diagnosis will help for the selection of the best treatment for lymphedema.
What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a condition characterized by the inability of the lymph nodes to drain the lymph adequately. It commonly occurs in the limbs. Lymphedema can occur on its own, in which case it is called primary. Secondary lymphedema is caused by another medical condition like cancer or an infection.
The problem is characterized by a wide range of symptoms. Individuals that suffer from primary or secondary lymphedema could experience any of the following:
- Swelling and pain in the area where lymph accumulates.
- The swelling will affect the range of motions.
- Heaviness and a feeling of tightness in the arm or the leg.
- Asymmetry between the two arms or legs.
- Inflammation resulting from the long-term accumulation of lymph.
- Thickened skin.
- Suppressed functioning of the immune system.
A thorough medical examination will enable a physician to diagnose lymphedema adequately. A physician will also ask for the patient’s medical history to identify a cause of secondary lymphedema. Secondary lymphedema is the one that occurs most commonly, which is why doctors will try to identify the health problem or the procedure (surgery is one example) that led to the accumulation of lymph in the arm or the leg.
Treatment Options for Lymphedema
The best treatment for lymphedema depends on the severity of the condition.
Elastic sleeves or stockings and compression pumps are commonly used by people who suffer from lymphedema. A compression pump comes with a sleeve and it delivers sequential compression. The best aspect of such devices is that they can be used both at medical facilities and at home.
Exercise is also incredibly beneficial for people that suffer from lymphedema. The gentle contraction of the arm and leg muscles enables the lymph to flow through the lymphatic system more efficiently.
In more severe cases, a physician may recommend surgery. Surgery will be needed in the case of a limb that has swollen excessively and that affects the patient’s quality of life. The liquid buildup will be removed from the tissue but lymph could possibly start accumulating there once again.
Talking to a physician and understanding what the causes of lymphedema are will help you pick the best treatment for lymphedema. Lifestyle changes and the use of a compression pump can deliver great results. You can also rely on massages and exercise to improve lymph drainage and to feel better.