Lymphedema is a medical condition that is the result of the malfunctioning of the lymphatic system, characterized by the buildup of fluids in various parts of the body, especially the legs. Injury to the lymphatic system like a surgery for the removal of the lymph vessels or nodes is generally the cause for this condition. It is mostly seen in persons who have had radiation therapy or surgery to treat cancer. Occasionally, chronic infection may be a cause for lymphedema in the legs.
The role of the lymphatic system is to transport the nutrients within the body and to move the harmful elements to the bloodstream for elimination. When the lymph vessels are injured, there is obstruction to this function which leads to pooling of the fluids causing lymphedema. Lymphoedema can be primary or secondary; primary lymphedema is genetically inherited wherein the lymphatic system is not properly developed. It could show up at birth or later, during the teenage years. Secondary lymphedema is acquired by the patient as a result of cancer treatment or a surgery to remove the lymph nodes.
Usually patients who are at high risk of getting lymphedema are advised by doctors to be alert to the symptoms. Cancer patients who have undergone radiation or surgery are always monitored by doctors for early signs of the condition. Lymphadema often recurs in such patients and hence they are advised to take preventive measures so as to delay the onset. Other causes can be blood clots, burns, parasitic infections and deep vein thrombosis. Some medications could also serve as a trigger for a lymph edema attack.
This condition can only be managed with the use of compression bandages, special compression stockings, compression sleeves and garments. Exercising the limbs is a good way to keep up the circulation of the fluids in the body. Decongestive therapy is the most favored and effective method of treatment and diet is probably the most important of all. There are other forms of treatment like the use of mechanical pumps for manual lymph drainage. Pumps can be used where the patient does not have easy access to a therapist to perform the massage.
The skin is greatly affected in case of people suffering from lymph edema. Therefore, skin care is a major part of the treatment therapy for lymphedema. The skin can get dry and cracked as a result of the swelling. Cracked and dry skin is easily prone to infections and can be an entry point for bacteria. Hence it is necessary for lymphedema patients to follow a daily routine of cleaning the skin and moisturizing it with oils and skin creams. Lymphoedema is not curable but can only be prevented. Patients therefore have to take care throughout their lives to avoid the ailment. Constant monitoring for early symptoms enables a quick treatment before the situation gets out of hand. Those who suffer from lymphedema may well display the details on medical bracelets to provide information to medical personnel in case of an emergency.