Any health ailment, if left untreated, can lead to serious complications; it is the same with lymphedema, if due care is not taken, the condition can aggravate leading to serious complications that may be impossible to treat. Changes in the physical appearance are quite common, along with impaired body movement which has a profound impact on the daily activity of the individual. In the past, only a few complications of lymphedema were documented, but with recent research, the lists have got bigger and more detailed. Some complications of lymphedema are listed below:
1. The most common complication is cellulitis, which is a bacterial skin infection causing redness, swelling and pain in the area. Lymphangitis, another complication, involves swelling of the lymph glands.
2. Drained wounds in lymphedema patients may cause scarring of the skin surrounding the wound.
3. Fluid accumulation may cause a pressure on the nerves resulting in severe pain. Loss of muscle tissue could also cause pain.
4. Loss of function of the limbs is another complication of lymphedema that has a great impact on the patient’s life.
5. Lymphedema, by itself has a psychological effect on the individual. Coping with the stress of daily activities which become increasingly difficult due to disfigurement may lead to depression.
6. Deep vein thrombosis or formation of blood clots may be a side effect of the lymphedema swelling. Deep vein thrombosis could also be a result of lymphangitis or cellulitis where swelling is observed.
7. If infections are not attended to in time, gangrene or sepsis might set in and complicate matters even more. Sometimes the affected limb may even have to be amputated.
8. Complications of the skin like plaque or cracked skin is a recurrent occurrence for lymphedema patients. Bacterial infections are also quite common.
9. The most severe complication of lymphedema is lymphangiosarcoma, a cancer of the lymph glands. Angiosarcoma is the cancer of the soft tissues which might also be seen in long term lymphedema patients.
10. Lymphoma, a kind of cancer in the lymph glands, may be observed in people having hereditary lymphedema as they are high risk candidates for the disease.
Due to a weakened immune system, patients face a number of complications of lymphedema. It usually forms a vicious cycle; with frequent attacks of infection, immunity is reduced leaving the body prone to more infections. Treatment for any infection must be quick and doctors may prescribe a daily dose of phenoxymethyl penicillin 500mg as medication.
The most vulnerable part of the body is the skin. Infection may gain entry through a cut or a crack in the skin and progress to the lymphatic system and stir up other complications of lymphedema. Hence, as a preventive measure the skin must be kept scrupulously clean with a regular cleansing and moisturizing routine. It is necessary to prevent injuries and insect bites as well. Early treatment of infection will prevent serious problems in future, so it is worthwhile to be constantly monitored by a doctor for any initial signs of infection.