Lymphedema develops in stages and it is a progressive disease. The stages of lymphedema have their own peculiar characteristics however; they are linked together and can be considered as continuous stages.
Is Lymphedema Reversible?
Well, this is explainable when we first try to understand the various stages of lymphedema. There is no cure for lymphedema at present. However, it is manageable with proper diagnosis and treatment. The stages 0 and 1 are reversible while 2 and 3 are non-reversible stages of lymphedema.
Stages Of Lymphedema
Lymphedema Stage 0-
- This is a subclinical or latent stage of lymphedema.
- This is also known as a non-visible stage.
- In this stage, the lymph transport is affected or impaired; however, the swelling does not start to show yet.
- The person who is affected may feel a kind of tightness or heaviness in the affected area, but the swelling is not evident yet.
- This stage may be present for months or even years, before the swelling or the edema actually starts to become evident.
Lymphedema Stage 1-
- This stage is known as a mild stage or spontaneously reversible stage.
- There is a mild swelling seen in this stage.
- The swelling mostly starts in the extreme far part of the limb, like the toes and the foot, and gradually makes its way up the limb and towards the trunk. This happens because of the gravitational pull of the earth.
- The swelling is seen to be improving during resting period or during the nights, when one is in lying down position. But, as one gets up and about, the swelling only returns.
In this stage, the elevation of the affected area may seem to be helpful in reducing the swelling.
- If prompt and efficient treatment is carried out at this stage, the lymphedema complications can be avoided. The chances of infection and the progress of the disease can be arrested if proper care is taken at this stage.
- If compression techniques are used in this stage, they might help in reducing the fluid accumulation.
- The main aim of treatment in this stage is reduction in swelling, promoting the normal functioning of the remaining healthy lymphatic system and arresting of the fluid accumulation.
- Reduction in swelling can help in keeping infections at bay and prevent irreversible changes from happening.
Lymphedema Stage 2-
- This stage is also known as moderate stage or spontaneously irreversible stage.
- In this stage, the appearance of the skin changes to spongy.
- Also, because of the fibrotic changes, the pitting becomes less in occurrence
- There is a gradual thickening of the skin
- In this stage, even if the affected limb is elevated, it hardly makes any difference in the swelling.
- However, even at this stage, the lymphedema can be manageable, with treatment and care.
The swelling in this stage is spontaneously irreversible. However, with time, it can slowly improve with compression techniques and night time compression, if done in a correct way.
Lymphedema Stage 3-
- This stage is also known as severe stage or Lymphostatic Elephantiasis stage.
- In this stage, the skin shows huge changes. It enlarges and hardens and becomes scaly.
- These changes might be so severe that sometimes the fluid leaks from the breaks in the skin, known as lymphorrhea.
- Because of this, the chances of infection increase a lot, as it is difficult to keep the skin dry, due to the leaking of lymph fluid, especially in the folds of the skin.
- The increased heaviness in the limb may be so that it may restrict the daily movements and affect the overall quality of life.
- In these cases, custom compression garments are required to tackle the swelling
However, this stage too, while not reversible, can be managed effectively with timely and correct treatment methods.