Lymphedema is a name for the swelling that results due to collection of the lymph fluid. It is usually seen to be occurring in the arms or legs. However, sometimes it can be seen developing in other parts of the body too. There might be pain sometimes. Also, the movement of the affected area might be restricted due to the pain and the swelling.
What Are The First Signs Of Lymphedema?
The first sign of lymphedema is swelling of one or both of the arms or legs. This swelling builds up slowly over time and can reach to the fingers and the toes as well. Other signs seen in lymphedema are-
- There may be a feeling of heaviness and tightness in the affected area of lymphedema.
- There might be pain and discomfort.
- Due to the pain and heaviness, there might be a restriction in movement of the affected area.
After some time, there can be fibrosis of skin, meaning that the skin may get hardened and thickened. This happens, because over time, the lymph fluid can become more dense and fibrous, as opposed to its soft and thin consistency.
Sometimes the changes in the affected area are so mild that they cannot be noticed, while in some other cases the changes are so severe that it gets difficult to perform even the day to day functions. Lymphedema condition later might even lead to infections. Rarely it may lead to cancer.
Types of Lymphedema
Lymphedema is of two types – primary and secondary. Primary lymphedema is the one that occurs on its own, whereas secondary lymphedema is caused due to some other health conditions or diseases. Compared to primary lymphedema, secondary lymphedema occurs more commonly.
Causes of Lymphedema
If the lymphatic system gets damaged due to some reason, or if there is a blockage in the lymphatic system, then the lymph fluid cannot circulate and drain properly, usually from the arms or legs. This results in the accumulation of the fluid beneath the skin.
Causes of Primary Lymphedema
Primary lymphedema is very rare. It is a genetic condition, which results if your lymph vessels or lymph nodes are inadequately developed or completely absent. There are a few specific causes of this condition. These are diseases like-
Congenital lymphedema– this is also known as Milroy’s disease. It starts in infancy and in this condition the lymph nodes are formed abnormally.
Lymphedema praecox– this is also known as Meige’s disease. In this type, the lymphedema is seen around puberty or during pregnancy.
Lymphedema tarda– this is an even rarer condition and usually occurs after age of 35.
Causes of Secondary Lymphedema
Secondary lymphedema is much more common and usually occurs if any procedure or condition damages the lymphatic system. It may happen due to any of the following causes-
- Infection– if there is an infection of the lymph nodes, or presence of parasites, then the circulation of the lymph fluid can get affected. This results in accumulation of the fluid, causing lymphedema.
- Surgery– lymph vessels may get injured during a surgery. Or, lymph nodes may be needed to be removed as a treatment for a cancer. In both these instances, the flow of the lymph fluid will get restricted and it will result in lymphedema.
- Cancer– cancer cells may block the lymphatic vessels and result in the collection of lymph fluid. If a cancer is growing near lymph nodes in the form of a tumor, and if it grows large enough to affect the lymph nodes, it may obstruct the flow of the fluid, resulting in lymphedema.
Radiation treatment may also be a cause, as it may cause scarring of the lymph nodes or lymph vessels.
At present, there is no known cure or treatment for lymphedema. The line of treatment usually comprises of symptomatic relief by reducing the swelling and pain.