Research shows that Lymphoedema is a chronic condition (long-term) that causes swelling in the body’s tissues. It can often affect any part of the body, but it usually develops and presents itself in the arms or legs.
Lymphoedema has two main types which are called Primary and Secondary.
- Primary lymphoedema is when someone has a faulty gene that is affecting the lymphatic system and its development. This type can appear at any age but on the whole it will usually start in early adulthood although some cases appear in early childhood.
- The secondary lymphoedema is when the lymphatic system gets an infection which making it very difficult for the lymph’s to drain any fluid away.
Throughout the whole of the body there are lots of lymph vessels. Lymph vessels have the job of collecting all the waste products that the tissues of the body don’t want. Their other job is to gather together excess lymph fluid, proteins and lipids (fats). This all then travels to the lymph nodes (bean shaped organs that are located in the lymphatic system all over the body). The lymph nodes then filter it/ clean it with something called lymphocytes, which are cells that fight infections. After this, the excess fluid that is in the vessels is then returned back into the blood stream. If any of the vessels are blocked or they can’t drain the fluid away, then this is then called lymphoedema. CentredTherapies massage services can help with the drainage of the lymph glands through massage therapies.
Primary lymphoedema causes:-In the early stages of the developing embryo when the genes are developing, sometimes changes will occur that are known as a mutation. In the case of the lymphoedema, if a mutation occurs in the genes controlling the lymphatic system, then the defective gene results in it not being able to drain the fluid sufficiently causing the lymph system to be not as effective as it should be. The Primary type is normally hereditary but can miss generations with some babies not born with the condition.
Secondary lymphoedema causes:-As described above in the definition, secondary lymphoedema will only appear and develop in people who get an infection and have had no problems with their lymphatic system prior to the infection. The secondary type has a variety of different causes. Below are some of these causes:-
- Surgical treatment of cancer
- Trauma and injury
- Venous diseases
Here are four of the above lymphoedemacauses in more detail.
Infections can be of the bacterial or parasitic kind. A bacterial infection called Cellulitis is an infection of the layers that are deeper in the skin layers and found within the tissue under the skin. You will know if you have this form of infection as it presents with the localised area turning bright red, feeling hot and appearing swollen. This will usually appear in the legs but is known to happen in other parts of the body. The parasitic infection can be caused by an infection called filariasis. This is an infection that is spread by blood feeding black flies or mosquitoes.
Lymphoedema can cause the inflammation of tissues making them appear swollen and red. Unfortunately the side effects of this can damage the lymphatic system on a permanent basis. If you suffer from such conditions as rheumatoid arthritis, then this can cause you to have lymphoedema too.
This is where a person with varicose veins may suffer with lymphoedema. This is because of the poor or inadequate blood drainage is happening, causing the pressure in the veins to be a lot higher than normal, resulting in more fluid entering into the tissue in the localised area and passing into the tissue spaces. Another venous disease that can give you a higher rate of getting lymphoedema is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Unfortunately if you get cancer cells in your body, then it is possible for them to spread into the lymphatic system. Treatment for the cancer may very well then include the removal of possibly infected pieces of the lymphatic system that could have cancerous cells.
Research reports that certain cancers have more risk of lymphoedema occurring. These cancers include:
- Prostate cancer
- Penile cancer
- Melanoma skin cancer
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Vulval cancer
Signs and symptoms
Swelling (edema) in all or part of the limb (arms or legs) is usually a sign that you may have lymphoedema. This swelling is often found in the legs or arms. The swelling will sometimes be more pronounced at the end of the day due to the person having done a lot of standing/walking. The excess fluid will have not been able to drain away and will have settled in the areas of ‘pooling’. Elevation of the limb will sometimes help to drain the fluid but unfortunately unless this swelling is treated properly, there is a chance that it can permanently become attached to the affected limb. Some other signs are:
- Recognising that clothing or jewellery are suddenly tight and/or uncomfortable
- Localised redness of the skin
- Reduced flexibility in the joints
- Slight puffiness of the skin
- Asymmetrical appearance of the extremities
- Diminished ability to see or feel the veins or tendons in the extremities
- Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
- Weight gain
- Weight gain reducing activity and limited mobility
Lymphoedema is the result of a diminished flow of the lymphatic system. It can be a genetic condition or caused by an infection. This can have a detrimental effect on the lymphatic system causing great damage. If the lymph nodes become damaged, then this in turn will have implications for the body’s immune system too, as the nodes are important for fighting infections that attack the body.