March is Lymphedema awareness month. That means it is our call to educate you, our clients, so you can spread the word about Lymphedema. Lymphedema happens when the lymphatic system is not complete or is disturbed. The lymphatic system is a system that consists of tissue such as the lymph vessels, lymph nodes and lymph and organs primarily the tonsils, adenoids, spleen and thymus. Lymph is a colorless, transparent fluid which originates in the tissue space through out the body. Its responsibility is to remove excess body fluids, bacteria, viruses, proteins and waste products from the body tissue. Lymph nodes (small bodies scattered along lymph vessels) act as cleaning filters to destroy pathogens, inactivate toxins and remove particulate matter and aid in your body’s immune system to fight infection. The lymph nodes, thymus gland, tonsils, and spleen produce lymphocytes which enhance the body’s immunity. Lymph flows in one direction urged along its journey by contraction of skeletal muscles and smooth muscle fibers in the walls of the lymphatic vessels and movement of the diaphragm until it dumps its cargo back into the circulatory system. Lymph flow in this system is very slow (3 liters per day) compared to our circulatory system (5 liters per hour). When the lymphatic system is disrupted, the lymph pools in the interstitial spaces and swelling occurs.
There are two types of Lymphedema- Primary and Secondary
Primary Lymphedema happens seemingly without cause. It may be present at birth, become apparent at puberty or after age 35. Primary Lymphedema occurs more frequently in women than in men.
Secondary Lymphedema is caused by injury, accident, surgery, or radiation to an area of lymph nodes. There are approximately 2 million cases of secondary Lymphedema. It may develop months, even years after injury, surgery, or radiation. It has even occurred over 20 years later.
Factors that contribute to Lymphedema:
- Surgery and/or radiation therapy
- Post operative infections
- Infections (insect bites, athletes foot, parochial-bacterial or fungal infection where the nail and skin meet at the side or the base of a finger or toe)
- Sedentary lifestyles
- Dependent limb position
- Recurrent tumor
- Trauma to remaining lymphatics
- Untreated edema from venous insufficiency can progress to venous/lymphatic disorder which is treated as Lymphedema
Many treatments have been tried to control Lymphedema. Diuretics only stimulate the kidneys to remove more fluid which results in a higher protein concentration and hardening of the tissue. Some success has been shown in lymph node transplants, but this is a very slow process to grow the lymphatic system and the final decision on the effectiveness of this treatment is still out. The one tried and true treatment is initiated by a therapist doing Manual Lymphedema Drainage (moving lymph to areas where lymph nodes can collect the lymph and transport it), teaching special exercise, and wrapping the effected area. Once the therapist determines the maximum reduction has been reached, then compression garments can be worn. Sometimes these can be ready to wear and sometimes they must be custom measured.
Once Lymphedema has developed, it is a lifetime of management with
- Meticulous hygiene and topical skin products
- Manual lymph Drainage (MLD) – which you may be able to learn to do your self
- Special Exercises to help move the lymph along
- Compression garments to help maintain you hard worked for size
There are times when a Lymphedema patient will need to return to bandages for a night or so just as a tune-up to maintain the reduction that was achieved.
I would like to leave you with the awareness of what Lymphedema is and the fact that if you have venous insufficiency and do not wear your compression stocking, it can progress and become a disease that is much harder to control.
Please call one of our Certified Fitters at 1-800-515-4271 who are able to assist you in the selection of a compression garment that will meet your lifestyle needs.