What is Lymphedema?

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What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a condition wherein one or more extremities are swollen due to problems in the lymphatic system. Commonly, only one extremity is affected, but both arms and/or legs may also be involved in some cases.

There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary lymphedema. Primary lymphedema is a rare occurrence and involves genetic abnormalities in the lymph vessels. Secondary lymphedema meanwhile refers to damage in the lymphatic system by some form of trauma. Both types will lead to abnormalities in the flow of lymph resulting to accumulation and swelling of a body part.

The primary type of lymphedema usually presents itself at birth. But symptoms may only become evident years after. Secondary types meanwhile present symptoms after there is some blockage to body’s lymphatic system. Common causes of secondary lymphedema include trauma, burns, radiation, or compression by tumors and cysts. A condition known as filariasis is said to be the most common cause for the swelling in lymphedema. Filariasis is a condition resulting from a particular mosquito bite.

Symptoms of lymphedema include swelling of the arms or legs. This swelling may be minimal involving the fingers and toes but may affect the entire extremity. And since there is fluid accumulation, the extremity will feel heavy and the affected person won’t be able to move freely. There may also be some pain and discomfort on the swollen area, as well as thickening of the skin.

There is no definite cure for lymphedema and so medical management is directed towards the symptoms. To decrease the swelling of a particular body part, bandages and or elastic stockings may be used to aid in lymphatic drainage. Others may also choose to have a pneumatic compression device wherein some pump provides squeezing to the swollen part to improve lymph flow. Exercise may also be prescribed for some to encourage limb and joint movements which assist in the natural lymphatic flow of the body. For those with skin infections, they may be given some antibiotics. And in extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to drain out the excess fluid from the affected body part/s.

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