The lymphatic system of the body is made up of vessels, trunks and ducts in which a fluid called lymph, flows. The lymphatic system also comprises of lymph nodes that helps the body against foreign substances. The lymph comprises of water, proteins, fats and cells. The function of the lymphatic system is to return the fluid, from the interstitial region, back to the blood so as to maintain the volume and pressure of the blood. The lymph nodes serve as a defense against any invaders in the body. On the basis of changes in the skin structure, the lymphedema is divided in to four stages and the condition is progressive.
What Are The Stages Of Lymphedema?
The function of lymphatic system is to clear the fluid from the tissues. However, when the fluid remains collected in the tissues, the swelling occurs, generally, in arms, legs, chest and genital parts. This condition is termed as lymphedema. On the basis of severity of the condition and in order to adopt the proper treatment strategy, lymphedema is divided in to four stages. It should be noted that none of these stages are static. If left untreated, these stages are progressive. Also, if the treatment is started in the initial stages, the results are better. Following are the four stages:
Lymphedema Stage 0:
Lymphedema Stage 0 is also known as latent stage or subclinical stage. Whenever there is a surgery for cancer such as breast cancer, various nodes of those particular regions are removed, and the integrity of the lymphatic system is breached. This results in reducing the capacity of lymphatic system in collecting the fluid from the interstitial region. Although, the swelling in this stage is not visible but the underlying process for lymphedema has been initiated. The condition may also occur due to some diseases in the lymphatic system that reduces its functional capacity. The patient may feel symptoms such as numbness, tingling sensation, discomfort and sometimes a mild pain. Also, the patient may experience tightness while wearing a watch or wearing clothes. The characteristics of lymphatic system at this stage are reduced capacity and fluid overload. This stage may continue for months or years and depends upon the ability of the system to function under reduced capacity. This condition is absolutely reversible and can be treated easily.
Lymphedema Stage 1:
Lymphedema Stage 1 is also known as pitting edema or reversible stage lymphedema. The lymphedema is a progressive condition and if stage 0 is not properly managed, it enters in to stage 1. In this stage, the swelling of the limbs is visible due to the collection of the substantial amount of lymph fluid in these tissues. When the patient’s limbs are raised, the condition becomes normal, as the case in morning. However, as the day moves, edema returns. As this in only an initial stage and no serious impairment of tissue occurs, this stage is reversible and treatable.
Lymphedema Stage 2:
Lymphedema Stage 2 is also known as spontaneously irreversible-lymphedema. Very often, if stage 1 is not managed, the disease progresses in to more serious stage 2. In this stage the thickening of the tissue takes place. The stage is characterized by the connective tissue fibrosis and skin hardness. The elevation of the limbs provides no relief. As the hardening of the tissue progresses in this stage, the condition becomes difficult to manage and is usually irreversible.
Lymphedema Stage 3:
Lymphedema Stage 3 is also known as lymphostatic elephantiasis. In this stage pitting is not possible. The skin hardens further, and the permanent damage occurs. Further, due to high deposition of fats and proteins, the chances of infection increase. It may also decrease the functional capacity of the affected organ.
Lymphedema is the condition wherein the capacity of the lymphatic system is collecting the fluid reduces and the lymph remains in the tissues. This leads to swelling and destruction of skin. On the basis of extent of destruction to the skin tissues, lymphedema is divided in to four stages i.e. latent stage, pitting edema, irreversible edema and lymphostatic elephantiasis.