What Are the Symptoms of Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a condition that affects your lymph nodes and causes your limbs to swell. Learn the symptoms so that you can identify it early and take steps to keep it from worsening. 

Lymphedema is a condition where one of your arms or legs, or possibly both of them, swells up. It is often caused by the removal of or damage to the lymph nodes, which causes a blockage in your lymphatic system that prevents fluid from draining effectively. This fluid then builds up, resulting in swelling in your limbs.

There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary. Primary is especially rare, and is caused by the absence of certain lymph nodes at birth. Secondary is more common, and is the result of damage to your lymphatic system, which can happen during surgery, infection, or cancer treatment.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for lymphedema. However, early diagnosis and careful care for your affected limb can help you manage the condition.

Symptoms of Lymphedema

The most obvious symptom of lymphedema is the swelling of either all or part of your arm or leg, including your fingers and toes. This swelling can range from mild to severe, and may appear months or years after lymphatic injury.

Other symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • A restricted range of motion
  • General aching or discomfort
  • Feelings of tightness or heaviness
  • Fibrosis, a thickening and hardening of the skin tissue 
  • Recurring wounds and infections

It’s important to properly care for your affected limb, as the smallest injury can become an entry point for serious infection. Two common types of infections for people with lymphedema are lymphangitis, which is an infection of the lymph vessels, and cellulitis, which is a serious bacterial infection of the skin.

Treatment for Lymphedema

Unfortunately, chronic lymphedema cannot be cured. However, there are a number of treatment options that can help reduce discomfort and prevent the condition from worsening. These are particularly important given that untreated lymphedema can lead to decreased mobility and function of the affected limb as well as increased swelling and infection.

The best practices for treatment are:

  • Wearing compression garments on the affected limb or utilizing other compression devices.
  • Elevating the limb whenever possible. 
  • Engaging in gentle exercise through muscle contraction. 
  • Getting massage therapy to help with fluid drainage. 
  • Avoiding situations that might result in injury given that small wounds can open you up to major infections. 
  • Being especially mindful of hygiene. 
  • Avoiding heat or extreme cold.

Some of these best practices focus on preventing infection. If you do get a wound in a limb affected by lymphedema, it’s important that you act quickly to prevent infection. Gentle scrubbing and irrigation of the wound is critical as is the aggressive administration of antibiotics to prevent cellulitis. Non-adhesive, compression dressings can also help the wound heal.

If you believe you might have lymphedema, or if you have any questions about the condition, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with the specialists at Premier Heart & Vein Care. We can help you navigate the condition and determine the best treatment options for you.

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