BRINGING MORE AWARENESS TO LYMPHEDEMA
March is Lymphedema Awareness Month and March 6th is World Lymphedema Day, which is celebrated every year 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 so often people with this disease are 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 where there is something wrong with the lymph system at birth. Secondary lymphedema is acquired through some sort of trauma to the body. This can include surgical procedures, infections, radiation, burns or any injury that affects the lymph system.
When the lymphatic system is not working properly, lymph can accumulate in an area causing swelling. Lymph is a protein-rich fluid which carries waste out of our body and is part of the immune system. When this fluid is unable to move due to a damaged system, swelling occurs. 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, if diagnosed and treated in the early stages, it can be managed. I highly recommend seeking out a specialist in lymphedema. 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 as well as your lifestyle. This treatment may include massage therapy called manual lymphatic drainage (MLD). Treatment and management of lymphedema may also include exercise, compression garments, pneumatic pumps and diet. In some cases, surgery can help to improve the condition, as well.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF LYMPHEDEMA
It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of lymphedema so that you can seek medical attention at any 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, it’s important to become as educated as you can about this disease. 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). Both of these organizations are wonderful resources for learning more and helping you navigate through the medical profession when it comes to lymphedema. There are also many support groups on social media. You are not alone!
Disclaimer – This blog is for general information purposes only. Furthermore, information contained in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice – always consult a licensed healthcare professional for advice on your specific condition.