What is Lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a chronic condition (lasts a sustained period) which means that your tissue will swell. While it can affect any part of your body, particularly after surgery, it usually develops in your arms or legs due to how gravity pulls the fluid to its lowest extremity.
Charlie Botha ITEC
Your ITEC qualified massage therapist
Questions & Answers
Is is oedema the same as lymphoedema?
Excess tissue fluid that had not yet returned to the circulatory system usually causes oedema. Lymphoedema is swelling caused by excess protein-rich lymph trapped within the tissues. They are slightly different, and you can tell the difference by pressing the skin. If you press your skin and are left with a mark, then this is likely to be oedema. We can still help support patients with oedema with manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), see below.
What are the symptoms of Lymphoedema?
The symptoms of Lymphoedema are mainly swelling. It doesn’t need to be in the area’s entirety, but it will be noticeable enough that fitting in clothing or shoes will be difficult and uncomfortable.
To start with, your swelling may come and go, it will be worse during the day and then overnight, when your body rests and you’re often not wearing such tight clothing in key areas, it will reduce.
However, if Lymphoedema isn’t treated, it usually grows more severe.
What are the causes of Lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema occurs when the lymph system is overloaded, restricted or damaged. This is a network of tiny, delicate vessels that sit just under the surface of your skin.
Unlike the heart, they don’t have a pump, and the fluid moves through them via movement of our body and water. Their purpose is to fight infection and drain excess fluid from our tissue.
What does Cellulitis have to do with Lymphoedema?
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection in a deep layer of your skin. It is often a cause or effect of Lymphoedema. You should get checked out for Cellulitis if you experience:
*redness and heat in the skin in the area
*pain and increased swelling
*if you have a fever or high temperature
*experiencing the chills
There is primary and secondary Lymphoedema.
Primary Lymphoedema is caused by faulty genes. Basically your lymphatic system just didn’t develop properly although it may develop at any age through to early adulthood.
Secondary Lymphoedema is caused when we damage the lymphatic system, e.g. through surgery (including plastic surgery) or not drinking enough water, or moving enough. Infection, cancer treatment or inflammation may also cause it.
Is there a cure for Lymphoedema?
There is no cure for Lymphoedema at the moment, but there are techniques to control the symptoms. This involves minimising the accumulation of fluid and stimulating your lymphatic system via a manual lymphatic drainage massage so that your body is better able to deal with the build up itself.
What are the causes of secondary Lymphoedema?
Secondary Lymphoedema is where you’ve always had a perfectly normal lymphatic system, and then something happens and that all changes.
*Surgery for cancer, not limited to, but often; breast cancer, melanoma (skin cancer), gynaecological cancers, genitourinary cancers.
*Following radiotherapy which can damage healthy as well as cancerous tissue.
*Infections e.g. filariasis or cellulitis because it damages skin tissue at the site
*Inflammation, particularly rheumatoid arthritis and eczema
*Venous diseases, fluid accumulates then overflows from our veins and causes swelling e.g. deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and varicose veins.
*Obesity, possibly because the excess tissue damages the fragile lymphatic system and prevents fluid from flowing freely.
*Trauma and injury e.g. after a road traffic accident where there is substantial damage to tissue in the form of bruising
*Immobility because movement is a key factor in keeping the lymphatic system healthy
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