March is Lymphedema Awareness Month
Lymphedema is a medical condition caused by a fluid buildup in the body’s tissues, leading to swelling and discomfort. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 250 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with lymphedema. It ranks #11 in the world of common diseases and #2 in disabling diseases, according to WHO, and yet still so few people have ever heard or know anything about this disease. Therefore, for my first blog post in March, I want to do my part to help bring more awareness and share some strategies to manage lymphedema. Even though lymphedema is a chronic condition, there are ways to manage lymphedema with proper care and lifestyle changes.
Signs and Symptoms of Lymphedema
The most common symptom of lymphedema is swelling in the arms or legs, although the swelling can occur anywhere in the body. There can also be a feeling of heaviness or tightness and decreased flexibility. The swelling may be accompanied by aching, tenderness, and redness in the affected area. In addition, the skin may feel warm to the touch and be at risk for infection. In some cases, lymphedema can cause skin discoloration and damage, leading to thickening and hardening.
Causes of Lymphedema
Lymphedema is caused by damage to the lymphatic system, which carries excess fluid away from the body’s tissues. Damage to the lymphatic system can be caused by surgery, radiation therapy, trauma, or a medical condition such as cancer or obesity. This type of lymphedema is called secondary lymphedema. However, in some cases, people are born with a compromised lymphatic system that doesn’t work correctly. This is called primary lymphedema. Furthermore, sometimes, there is no apparent reason for lymphedema, and there is still much to learn about our lymphatic system and its role in our overall health and well-being.
If you’re at risk of lymphedema — for instance, if you’ve recently had surgery involving your lymph nodes, your doctor may diagnose lymphedema based on your signs and symptoms. However, if the cause is not apparent, your doctor may order imaging tests such as an MRI, Ultra Sound, or a CAT scan to confirm the diagnosis. Another possibility is Lymphoscintigraphy, where the person is injected with a radioactive dye and scanned by a machine. The resulting images show the dye moving through the lymph vessels, highlighting blockages.
Although, as of now, there is no cure for lymphedema, there are various treatments to help manage it. These include exercise, lymphatic massage, compression therapy, and skin care. Exercise can help reduce swelling and improve mobility, while lymphatic massage can help to move lymphatic fluid out of the affected area. Compression garments also help move fluid out of the affected area while helping maintain gains made during therapy. Skin care is also essential to help prevent infection and minimize skin damage.
In some cases, surgery has proven beneficial to those dealing with lymphedema. These include liposuction, lymph node transplant, and lymphaticovenous anastomosis (LVA). However, specific criteria must be met to be considered for these treatment options.
Strategies for Managing Lymphedema
Managing lymphedema can be challenging, but living a full and active life is possible despite this condition. Here are some strategies for managing lymphedema:
- Follow your treatment plan: Make sure to follow your treatment plan, including regular massage therapy, compression bandaging, and compression garments.
- Regular exercise: Exercise can help reduce swelling, increase mobility, and improve overall well-being. However, talking to your healthcare professional before starting any exercise program would be best.
- Practice skin care: Good skin care is essential to prevent infection and reduce skin damage. Keep the affected area clean and moisturized, and wear protective clothing outdoors.
- Wear compression garments: Compression garments can help to reduce swelling and improve drainage. Talk to your doctor or a certified lymphedema therapist before using compression garments. They will be able to guide you on the types of compression and levels best suited for your condition.
- Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet can help to manage lymphedema. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Ketogenic diets have also proved to be beneficial. As always, consult your treating medical professional before starting any new diets.
- Manage stress: Stress can worsen the symptoms of lymphedema. Take time for yourself and engage in activities that help you relax. Self-care is essential for everyone, especially those with chronic diseases like lymphedema.
Lymphedema Awareness Month
March is lymphedema Awareness month, and hopefully, this blog post will help to bring more awareness to this chronic disease. Although lymphedema cannot be cured with a bit of self-care and strategies in place, it can be managed.
Disclaimer – This blog is for general information purposes only. Furthermore, the information in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice – always consult a licensed healthcare professional for advice on your specific condition.