BRINGING MORE AWARENESS TO LYMPHEDEMA
March is Lymphedema Awareness Month, and March 6th is World Lymphedema Day, celebrated yearly to educate the public about this disease. It is estimated that up to 10 million Americans are afflicted with this disease. However, many believe the numbers are much higher because people with this disease are often misdiagnosed.
SO WHAT IS LYMPHEDEMA?
Lymphedema is a chronic and progressive lymphatic disease that results in swelling. This swelling can become so bad that it is disfiguring. Lymphedema most often occurs in the arms or the legs but can occur anywhere throughout the body.
Primary lymphedema is when there is something wrong with the lymph system at birth. Secondary lymphedema is acquired through some trauma to the body. This can include surgical procedures, infections, radiation, burns, or lymph system injury.
When the lymphatic system is not working correctly, lymph can accumulate in an area, causing swelling. Lymph is a protein-rich fluid that carries waste out of our body and is part of the immune system. Swelling occurs when this fluid cannot move due to a damaged system. Furthermore, because waste is not being moved out of the body, it can cause recurrent infection. Any trauma, even bug bites, scratches, and sunburn, can cause a flare-up of lymphedema in an already compromised system.
MANAGEMENT OF LYMPHEDEMA
There is no cure for lymphedema at this time! However, it can be managed if diagnosed and treated early. I highly recommend seeking out a lymphedema specialist. This may be a doctor, but it could just as likely be a certified lymphedema therapist. They will assist you in designing a treatment plan that will work best for your condition and lifestyle. This treatment may include massage therapy called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). Treatment and management of lymphedema may include exercise, compression garments, pneumatic pumps, and diet. In some cases, surgery can also help improve the condition.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF LYMPHEDEMA
It’s essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of lymphedema to seek medical attention at an early stage that is easier to manage and treat. Some signs to look for include:
- Swelling in part of the body
- Skin feeling tight or hard
- A change of texture to the skin
- A feeling of heaviness in a limb
- Less ability to move in the joints
- Trouble fitting your arm into a sleeve or your leg into pants
- Jewelry feeling tight
LEARN MORE ABOUT LYMPHEDEMA
Since lymphedema is often under or misdiagnosed, becoming as educated as possible about this disease is essential. You are your own best advocate for your health and well-being! Two organizations I support and subscribe to are the National Lymphedema Network and Lymphatic Education and Research Network (LE&RN). These organizations are excellent resources for learning more and helping you navigate the medical profession regarding lymphedema. There are also many support groups on social media. You are not alone!
Disclaimer – This blog is for general information purposes only. Furthermore, the information contained in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice – always consult a licensed healthcare professional for advice on your specific condition.