What is Secondary Lymphedema?

Swelling caused due to pooling of lymph fluids is known as lymphedema. It is usually the result of an injury to the lymphatic system or happens on account of its dysfunction. Primary and secondary lymphedema are the two types of the condition. Secondary lymphedema is an acquired condition, usually as a result of surgery to remove the lymph vessels or lymph nodes or as a side effect of cancer treatment. Primary lymphedema is genetically inherited by the individual, and is much less common than secondary lymphedema.

In the United States, the largest number of lymphedema secondary cases is those individuals who have had breast cancer surgical treatment for the removal of lymph nodes. These patients may experience some extent of lymphedema symptoms in the upper extremities, generally in the hands or the arms. The other cause of secondary lymphedema could be some kind of a severe infection that mostly affects the legs of the individual. Filariasis, a parasitic infection caused by mosquitoes is another source for secondary lymphedema in the tropical lands. Presently, there are about 250 million cases of lymphedema existing around the globe.

Sometimes, intake of certain medicines may prompt an attack of lymphedema. The medication may cause blood clots or deep vein thrombosis in the legs. In case of cancer survivors, the onset of lymphedema might be triggered on a plane flight due to the sudden change in pressure levels. Patients must be aware of these issues and take precautionary measures which include wearing the compression garment even while travelling.

The swelling present in the affected limb may be a cause for severe discomfort. In severe lymphedema cases, the condition may deteriorate to such an extent that the body becomes disfigured and disabled. Skin infections usually worsen lymphedema. However, the ailment can be managed and controlled with the help of treatment that includes manual lymph drainage, use of compression garments, massage and bandaging. Additionally, the patient must exercise regularly and a skin care routine must be strictly followed.

Patients at a high risk of secondary lymphedema must remain alert to any initial signs of the disease. Obvious symptoms can be severe fatigue, swelling localized in one area, especially limbs, fluid retention or discoloration of the skin. A tiny cut or a bruise may cause a swelling. The patient may sometimes find that rings and bracelets become suddenly tight or that the limb feels unusually heavy.

Secondary lymphedema can be divided into three broad categories. The initial stage of the condition is easily reversible with quick diagnosis, treatment and medication. In the later stages, the condition gets out of hand and the limbs might swell to a huge size as a result of total blocking of the lymph channels. This may lead to complete disfigurement and discomfort. Before this happens, the patients must always consult the doctor for advice. It becomes easier to manage the ailment from the early phase itself.