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How Do You Know if You Have Lymphedema?

One of my favorite things we do at Vein & Skin is host free vein screenings every few weeks. People appreciate the free consultation, and we always find it interesting to screen new patients and evaluate their various problems. During our most recent screening at our Northside office, we saw several patients with a condition called lymphedema. Coincidentally, I had attended a conference on lymphedema the very same week. As it has been at the forefront of my mind the last few days, I thought it would be appropriate to write a blog post about this unusual condition.

 

What are the symptoms of lymphedema?

The primary symptom of lymphedema is the swelling of an extremity that lasts longer than four weeks and doesn’t improve. The swelling can occur in the legs, the arms, or the trunk area. Frequently, patients with lymphedema experience difficulty with moving and walking. Excessive fatigue of the arms and legs and feeling self-conscious about the appearance of swollen limbs are other frequent complaints.

 

What causes lymphedema?

There are two different kinds of lymphedema:

Primary lymphedema is a genetic abnormality and generally occurs without any definite cause. It can happen at any age and sometimes is considered hereditary.

Secondary lymphedema is acquired after damage to the lymphatic system from trauma or surgery. When a surgery or injury causes damage to the lymphatic drainage system, excessive lymph fluid gradually accumulates in the body. The buildup of fluid then appears as swelling in the tissue. Lymphedema frequently appears in patients who have recently been treated for cancer. The condition is fairly common in those with breast cancer, melanomas, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer or lymphomas.

 

What are the treatment options?

Fortunately, there is treatment for lymphedema and the sooner it is treated, the better. The most effective method is to prevent the progression of swelling through something called complete decongestant therapy. This involves compressive therapy with the use of compressive devices. Simple compressive stockings are often a quick and easy fix.

Other prevention and treatment methods include:

  • Exercise. Patients may benefit from exercise programs that stimulate lymphatic drainage.
  • Healthy diet and skincare regimen. Patients should adopt a meticulous skincare regimen to prevent against infections. Good nutrition may also help the healing process.
  • Manual draining. Some patients require manual lymphatic drainage as a technique of moving the fluid more effectively.

These are just a few of the ways that I have found to help our patients who have been diagnosed with lymphedema. Whichever treatment is best suited for your condition, it’s always better to start early before the disease process becomes more complicated.

As always, if you have any concerns about your vein and skin health, dial 404-508-4320 and make an appointment today.

–Dr. Fern