Why do I need to know about Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a medical condition that is associated with the excessive build-up of the lymph fluid in the body tissues. This occurs when the lymphatic system is damaged due to an injury or when the lymph nodes are removed from the lymphatic network which causes hindrance in the circulation of the lymph fluid.

The lymphatic system may be compromised at birth or after a surgery or radiation therapy for a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic network such as breast cancer, pelvic cancer, lymphoma, or melanoma. Lymphedema can also be triggered by an accident or injury and can occur to both men and women.

Lymphedema leads to excessive swelling in the arms and legs accompanied by infection and pain. Not only in the limbs, the lymph fluid can get accumulated in other parts of the body such as the face, ankles, trunk, etc. The symptoms of lymphedema are probable to get worse in cases where treatment is delayed. However, if lymphedema is diagnosed at an early stage, the symptoms can be easily managed.

There is no way to predict lymphedema. Although not life-threatening, lymphedema is most certainly life-changing as chronic pain and swelling can make it difficult for the patient to move his/her limbs. This can severely hamper the quality of life and may even lead to stress and depression for a few patients.

As lymphedema is a progressive disorder, being aware of its symptoms will definitely help in early diagnosis and timely treatment.

What is the Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system is a part of the circulatory system and the immune system of the body.

The circulatory system formed by a network of blood vessels such as veins, arteries, and capillaries is responsible for circulating the blood to all body parts. Blood consists of RBC (Red Blood Cells that provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide), WBC (White Blood Cells that fight infection), and Plasma.

Blood is pumped from the heart and travels through the capillaries where plasma filters into the interstitial spaces in the tissues. This fluid makes nutrition available to all cells and also helps remove the waste products from these cells. This fluid is reabsorbed into the blood before it flows out of the tissue.

The remaining fluid, called lymph or lymphatic fluid, is collected into the lymphatic network by the lymph vessels from where it is returned to the venous blood. Lymph fluid passes through the lymph nodes that are clustered along the lymph vessels.

The primary task of the lymph fluid is to maintain a balance of the body fluids and remove waste or harmful substances and thus prevent infections. Lymphedema occurs when the flow of the lymph fluid is interrupted due to damage to the lymph network.

Does Breast Cancer Treatment lead to Lymphedema?

For most women, the treatment for breast cancer involves removing a few lymph nodes from the underarm region. Usually, a sentinel node biopsy is performed to examine if the cancer cells have spread to the lymphatic system.

Based on the size of the tumour and the status of the lymph nodes, auxiliary lymph nodes may have to be removed. As a result, the vessels responsible for carrying the lymph fluid from the arms to the other parts of the body may get damaged or removed.

This alters the way the lymph fluid circulates through the body and may result in its undesired accumulation leading to swelling, discomfort, and thus lymphedema. It is advised to speak to your doctor about ways to minimize the risk of lymphedema associated with treatment for breast cancer.

How to diagnose lymphedema?

Lymphedema symptoms may be so mild that patients may ignore the heaviness, tightness, or fullness in the affected limb. One arm or leg may be swollen and feel puffier. These are early symptoms and warning signs of lymphedema and must not be ignored.

Let us have a look at the most common symptoms of lymphedema below:

  1. Tight fitness of watches, rings, bracelets, clothing, shoes
  2. Heaviness and discomfort in the affected limbs
  3. Reduced flexibility and difficulty in moving the limbs
  4. Redness of skin that may or may not be accompanied by thickening of the skin surface
  5. Excessive swelling and severe pain
  6. Inflammation that may occur anywhere in the body and is usually the first sign of an infection

How can you Reduce the Risk?

As stated earlier as well,  there is no way to predict lymphedema. It is yet to be clearly understood as to why some people develop lymphedema after surgery while the others do not.

The best that we can do is take the necessary precautions and be alert.

  1. If you are suffering from lymphedema, always ensure to give blood samples from the alternate arm
  2. Keep your limbs clean and moisturized. Do not forget to use mosquito repellent and sunscreen.
  3. Wear gloves before using any chemical cleaners, dishwashing bars or coming in close contact with wool or gardening.
  4. Avoid extreme temperatures(hot or cold). During the heat of the day, escape going out in the sun. You must totally avoid hot baths, steam rooms, and saunas.
  5. Always ensure to clean skin any breakouts to prevent infections and treat any skin burns instantly. Use antibiotic creams and sterilized bandages to prevent further damage.
  6. Avoid pressure on the affected limb. You must avoid carrying heavy bags or luggage.
  7. Make an exercise routine of mild and low impact exercise. Include stretching exercises in your daily exercise regime. Avoid strenuous body movements as they may trigger lymphedema. You must not lift heavyweights.
  8. Maintain ideal body weight and BMI under 25 to regulate the flow of the lymphatic fluid.
  9. Consume nutritious diet and opt for healthy alternatives like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc.
  10. Drink lots and lots of water.
  11. Ensure to wear compression garments during air travel. Consume extra water during long flights to prevent dehydration.

How to Treat Lymphedema?

It is difficult to diagnose lymphedema as its symptoms are not universally recognized and it is tricky to precisely evaluate them. What adds to the difficulty in diagnosis is the fact that lymphedema cannot be predicted and may either occur immediately after surgery or years after it.

Lymphedema is a progressive disorder and can get worse with time. It can be effectively controlled when diagnosed and treated in a timely manner. All necessary precautions must be taken to avoid activities that may trigger lymphedema.

Lymphedema education is important for all patients who are about to undergo or have already been treated by a surgical procedure. Awareness can help patients in early detection and effective management of lymphedema.

All people must always monitor their health and be aware of any changes in the condition. In case of any warning signs such as swelling, aching, redness, schedule a consultation with your medical practitioner as a priority.

Delayed diagnosis of lymphedema can lead to increased discomfort, swelling, and permanent fibrotic changes apart from the extreme difficulty in treatment. Thus, if you suspect that you have lymphedema, you must not delay visiting a medical expert for examination as earlier detection will lead to better results.

Dr. Rajah V Koppala at Avis Vascular Centre specializes in the painless treatment for lymphedema. He is a distinguished healthcare practitioner with 24+ years of experience and ensures immediate relief from all lymphedema symptoms. With an array of happy and satisfied patients, Dr. Rajah V Koppala is renowned for his genuine and effective treatment of lymphedema at a single package cost.

With tie-ups for cashless Mediclaim approvals from all leading nationalized Medical insurance agencies of India, Avis Vascular Centre ensures you have a hassle-free experience from the first appointment right till treatment and discharge. Avis Vascular Centre also has special arrangements for all non-local patients, the out-patient team manages hotel reservations, flight tickets and doctor appointments for all non-local patients.

If you are looking for the best treatment for lymphedema, do not hesitate in reaching out to Dr. Rajah V Koppala at Avis Hospitals. Schedule an appointment today!