People who have had surgery to remove part of the lymphatic system are at risk of developing lymphedema, a buildup of fluid in the soft body tissues. Other risk factors for lymphedema include inflammatory disorders, venous conditions, obesity, and immobility.
The lymphatic system is responsible for maintaining fluid levels in body tissues and removing leaking fluids from blood vessels. It is also an essential part of the immune system. If the lymphatic vessels are damaged or clogged, lymphedema can develop.
Lymphedema is the accumulation of protein-rich fluids in the tissues. It causes swelling, heaviness, tight or thickened skin, and recurrent skin infections. This
This article examines lymphedema in more detail, including risk factors and treatment options.
Risk factors for lymphedema vary depending on whether the disease is primary or secondary.
Primary lymphedema is genetic. It happens when there are defects in the genes responsible for the development of the lymphatic system, which means it cannot drain fluid as it should. The main risk factor for primary lymphedema is having close family members with the disease.
Secondary lymphedema is the result of another condition that affects the lymphatic system. Risk factors include:
- Cancer surgery: Sometimes surgeons remove the lymph nodes, which are part of the lymphatic system, to prevent the cancer from spreading. This increases the risk that the lymph will not drain properly, leading to lymphedema. Treatment for cancers such as breast cancer, skin cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer may involve surgery to remove lymph nodes.
- Radiotherapy: This cancer treatment uses radiation to destroy cancer cells. However, it can also damage healthy tissue, including the lymphatic system, making it unable to drain fluid.
- Tumors :
sometimesthe cancerous tumor itself blocks a lymph channel, causing fluid to build up.
- Immobility: Movement helps with lymphatic drainage, as muscle activity promotes the movement of fluid along the lymphatic vessels. Therefore, reduced movement may increase the risk of lymphedema. People whose mobility is limited for long periods – for example, due to illness, nerve damage or arthritis – may be at risk of developing lymphedema.
- Wound: Sometimes significant bruising and soft tissue injuries can increase the risk of lymphedema. People who have suffered burns, crush injuries or other forms of trauma may be at risk.
- Overweight: Obese people have an increased risk of developing swelling. The reason is unclear, but it could be due to excess tissue reducing the flow of fluid through the lymph channels.
- Venous diseases: Conditions affecting the flow of blood through the veins can increase the risk of lymphedema. Unhealthy veins can allow fluid to overflow into tissue spaces. Eventually, this overwhelms the parts of the lymphatic system responsible for draining fluid.
- Inflammation: Conditions that cause chronic inflammation, such as arthritis, can increase the risk of developing lymphedema. Indeed, inflammation can damage or destroy the lymphatic vessels.
- Infections: Cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, can increase the risk of lymphedema. Severe cellulitis can damage the tissues surrounding the lymphatic system. This leads to scarring and poor drainage. A parasitic infection known as filariasis can also cause lymphedema. In people with filariasis, filiform worms inhabit the lymphatic system and block lymphatic drainage.
Some people are more likely than others to have lymphedema. These people include those who have:
Also, people who have had cancer surgery involving the removal of lymph nodes or who have received radiation therapy as part of cancer treatment are more likely to develop lymphedema.
Although lymphedema can be a problem after surgery or radiation therapy for almost any type of cancer, it is
One of the jobs of the lymphatic system is to transport waste-containing fluid, or lymph, away from tissues and organs. Lymph is made up of various substances, such as:
- white blood cells
- cellular debris
- the water
However, the lymphatic system is complex. It consists of many small vessels which branch off from the large vessels and lymph nodes. The cause of lymphedema is abnormalities in these vessels.
If any part of the lymphatic system is blocked or damaged, lymph can build up in the tissues, causing swelling.
People with primary lymphedema may have the disease from birth, or it may appear later. Primary lymphedema is rare and only affects
Treatment for lymphedema may involve:
- Decongestive Lymphedema Therapy (DLT): DLT aims to move lymph around the body and reduce the formation of thickened or fibrous tissue, which can develop in people with lymphedema. DLT is the primary treatment for moderate to severe cases.
- Manual lymphatic drainage: This light massage moves lymph throughout the body and helps it drain, reducing swelling.
- Compression: Wearing stretch bandages or compression garments during the day and night helps reduce swelling. However, improper application can cause skin irritation and increase the risk of skin infections.
- Skin care: Carefully applying lotion to tight skin helps prevent cracks and infections.
- Exercise: Physical activity helps move lymph and reduce swelling by increasing protein absorption.
- Medications : These can relieve pain and control secondary infections.
Doctors may also suggest surgical options, including:
- Lymph node transplant: In this procedure, a surgeon removes healthy lymph nodes from an area of the body and transplants them into the area with lymphedema. Lymph nodes restore lymph flow and improve symptoms.
- Lympho-venous bypass: This involves connecting the lymphatic vessels to adjacent small veins, bypassing damaged lymphatic vessels.
- Liposuction: A surgeon removes excess tissue from the area with lymphedema using a thin suction tube.
People with reduced mobility may also benefit from speaking with occupational therapists or physiotherapists who specialize in lymphedema for advice and support.
No, there is no cure for lymphedema. However, with early diagnosis and treatment, doctors can manage the disease and reduce its physical and emotional impact.
Lymphedema therapy and surgery can help alleviate symptoms. After surgery, people often notice a reduction in the circumference or volume of their limbs over several months. They may also see improvements in symptoms such as tightness and heaviness.
Lymphedema is a condition that causes swelling of the soft tissues. The main risk factor for primary lymphedema is a family history of the disease, as it is genetic. Secondary lymphedema has many risk factors, including certain cancer treatments, injuries, inflammatory diseases, and infections.
The condition occurs when there is a problem with the lymphatic vessels, which drain lymph from the tissues. This leads to fluid buildup.
Treatment may include manual lymphatic drainage, which is a type of massage that moves lymph through the body. DLT, medications, exercise, and compression garments may also be part of a person’s treatment plan.