The lymphatic system is like the plumbing system for the body. It is responsible for draining excess bodily fluid. When some of this plumbing system is damaged or removed, a backup may occur. This is a condition called lymphedema. Lymphedema occurs when extracellular fluid builds in the arm or leg and causes significant swelling. This swelling does not easily subside with elevation of the limb or by taking medication. If lymphedema is not diagnosed early and managed appropriately, it may become a long-term, irreversible condition affecting quality of life and appearance.
Patients may be born with lymphedema (primary) or can develop symptoms anytime throughout their life. Primary lymphedema can be caused by congenital problems or genetically inherited. Patients may develop lymphedema due to axillary node removal, sentinel node biopsy, radiation therapy, peripheral vascular disease, blood clots (DVT), surgery, phlebitis, or repeated skin infections (cellulitis). This is known as secondary lymphedema.
- Heaviness, achiness, or tingling of the arm or leg
- Jewelry or clothing may begin to feel tighter than normal
- Restricted range of motion of the arm or leg
- Recurring skin infections
- Thickening and/or hardening of the skin
Complete decongestive therapy (CDT), in conjunction with vasopneumatic compression, can greatly improve lymphedema symptoms and maximize the potential for achieving and maintaining normal limb size.