What Is Lymphoedema and What Can I Do About It?

You might have heard about it or maybe you’ve been recently diagnosed? There’s a lack of information around this condition and it’s vitally important, so I want to do my best to shed some light.

Lymphoedema is a condition characterised by the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the tissues, which results in chronic swelling. The lymphatic system plays a vital role in the immune system, and it helps to remove excess fluid and waste products from the body’s tissues. When the lymphatic system is damaged or compromised, however, lymphatic fluid can accumulate, leading to lymphoedema.

There are several potential causes of lymphoedema, including:

  1. Primary lymphoedema: A rare genetic condition that affects the development of the lymphatic system, leading to lymphoedema. It is possible for this to be triggered later in life which, although rare, is called Lymphoedema Tarda.
  2. Secondary lymphoedema: This type of lymphoedema is more common and can be caused by a variety of factors, including surgery, radiation therapy, infection, trauma, cancer, and obesity.

While we see both types of lymphoedema in our studio, secondary is more prevalent due to the treatments for cancer triggering this type of the condition.

The presentation of lymphoedema can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Mild cases may only present with mild swelling or a feeling of heaviness, while severe cases can lead to significant disability and disfigurement. The swelling usually affects one or both arms or legs, but it can also occur in other parts of the body.

Symptoms of lymphoedema can include:

  1. Swelling in the affected limb or area
  2. Heaviness or aching in the affected area
  3. Restricted movement in the affected area
  4. Skin changes, such as dimpling, thickening, hardening, or discoloration
  5. Recurrent infections in the affected area

Treatment Options:

Surgical options for lymphoedema need to be discussed with your medical professional. There are a few surgeries that are emerging and now available however they may not be appropriate in all cases.

Conservative management is the main form of treatment for long term management of lymphoedema. It includes measures aimed at reducing swelling and preventing infection. These measures may include:

  1. Compression therapy: The use of compression stockings or bandages to promote circulation, lymph drainage and prevent further swelling. This may also include taping techniques and/or the use of a pneumatic compression pump device.
  2. Exercise: Exercises can help improve circulation, improve lymph flow and reduce swelling.
  3. Manual lymphatic drainage: A type of massage that stimulates the lymphatic system and helps to move the accumulated fluid out of the affected area.
  4. Skin care: Keeping the skin clean and moisturised can help prevent infection.
  5. Low level laser: This type of therapy uses light energy to break down damaged tissue and stimulate the growth of new lymphatic vessels.
  6. Diaphragmatic breathing: Seems a little too simple doesn’t it? Don’t underestimate it, this type of breathing is crucial! The movement of the diaphragm helps to pump the lymph fluid around the body.

Lymphoedema can be a challenging condition to manage, but there are various treatment options available to help improve symptoms and prevent complications. Early recognition and treatment of lymphoedema are absolutely crucial to prevent further complications and maximise long term management and improve quality of life. If you have any concerns or questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, we would love to chat to you. For more day to day tips on living with lymphoedema, check out our blog ‘Tips for Living with Lymphoedema

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