Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymph, a fluid mainly consisting of infection and disease fighting white blood cells, along with excess fluid and proteins. This accumulation may occur anywhere along your lymphatic system, which may be noticed only by a swollen arm or leg.
Your lymphatic system is an independent network of vessels and strategically located nodes, some of which are palpable in your:
- groin area
- under jaw/chin
- behind the ears
- back of the head
Lymphedema swelling may be due to an overall increase in the amount of fluid, or a blockage causing lymph accumulation, anywhere in the confines of your lymphatic system.
Causes for lymphedema include:
This lymph system swelling issue crops up for many women after breast related surgical procedures.
Lymphedema recovery goes better upon early discovery. Thus, stay on the look out for signs in an arm and leg of symptoms like:
- tightness feeling
- signs of infection
Also, take notice if your rings or shoes feel tighter.
An onset of lymphedema may be quick or gradual, and its swelling results may be temporary or chronic. Chronic being the most troublesome lymphatic situation to treat.
In the early stage development of chronic lymphedema, your lymph nodes are swollen, yet soft. At this stage, you may discover relief via raising your affected arm or leg above your heart, gentle exercise or massage, and wearing limb compression clothing.
As your chronic lymphedema progresses, the damaged area is not capable of keeping up with the fluid drainage demand. Lymph flows back, instead of out, causing:
- increased swelling
Your skin becomes hard and stiff, and no longer improves in response to the early relief techniques.
Lymphatic drainage does improves during exercise. However, exercising is a bit of a balancing act between benefits of swell reduction and potential detrimental swell increase, as you fire up your circulation. Therefore, you will need to start slowly, increase gradually and cautiously, stop immediately upon experiencing pain, swelling or discomfort.
Your exercise program needs to be strategically designed for your individualized situation to maximize the positive and minimize any negative effects.
Your are more likely to develop lymphedema if you are:
- consume an inadequate diet
- experiencing other health problems
Some recommended healthful lifestyle adjustments for prevention and control of lymphedema in an affected limb are:
- no needles
- do not overwork
- no ice packs or heating pads
- avoid extremes of hot or cold
- avoid injury and infection to area
- take immediate action for rashes
- limit pressure ~ no leg/arm crossing
- keep raised above the heart, whenever feasible
- avoid sitting in one position for longer than 30 minutes
- do not cut off or restrict circulation ~ tight clothing, jewelry,handbags, bandaging
- don’t take any physical actions which causes pooling of circulation at limb end ~ rapid circles
Measure circumference of your affected limb regularly to monitor for early signs of swelling.
Manual lymphatic drainage, a specialized form of very light massage, may help move fluid from limb end toward trunk. Caveat: not recommended in every case due to blood clot concerns.