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What is Lymphedema and How Do You Treat It?


Ever noticed some unusual swelling in your arms or legs? Don’t take it for granted because for all we know, you or your loved one may be suffering from a condition called lymphedema.

What is Lymphedema?

Our lymphatic system is made up of vessels responsible for carrying blood throughout the body. When the lymphatic system malfunctions, it can cause an abnormal buildup of protein-rich fluid in any of our body parts, a condition known as lymphedema.


Lymphedema may be something a person is born with or something that develops because of damage in the lymphatic system due to surgery or infection.


The condition happens when there is blockage in the lymphatic system often caused by traumatic events like sports injuries, effects of surgeries, or even deep cuts and bruises.


Diagnosis

There are currently no specific tests to detect lymphedema. Doctors will usually get a complete medical history and prescribe a physical examination. Questions about past surgeries, problems you encountered post surgery, edema history, current medications you’re taking, and underlying medical conditions like heart or kidney disease may be asked.


Stages

Your doctor will then identify which stage your lymphedema fits and provide treatment plans accordingly. Below are the known stages of lymphedema depending on how it has progressed:


Stage 1 is characterized by abnormal flow in the lymphatic system but presents no signs or symptoms.


Stage 2 is characterized by an accumulation of fluid that comes with swelling. The area may leave a dent when it’s pressed.


Stage 3 is characterized by permanent swelling and pressing doesn’t leave a dent. There may also be noticeable changes in the skin with scarring and thickening.


Stage 4 is characterized by large deformed limbs also known as Elephantiasis. This condition presents a thickening of the skin with “wart-like” growth and scarring.


Treatment Options

The good news is lymphedema can be treated with nonsurgical means as long as it is still in its early stages. Below are some of the protective measures you can practice.


Maintain Proper Hygiene


Take good care of your fingernails and avoid cutting cuticles as much as possible.


For cuts, make sure to clean them with soap and water then apply antibacterial ointment as well as a clean dressing.


Also make sure to clean the affected area daily and apply lotion when possible. Be gentle but thorough when drying them up.


Stay Fit

Staying in shape is equally important to prevent lymphedema. Eating a well-balanced, sodium-free diet is recommended.


Exercising regularly will also help improve drainage but make sure to consult a doctor or physical therapist first before implementing such a regimen.


Wear the Right Outfit

Wearing the right clothes will also go a long way in preventing lymphedema. Make sure to wear gloves when you’re gardening or when using strong detergents or cleaning materials.


Avoid wearing clothes with elastic cuffs and carry your bag or heavy stuff using your unaffected arm.


Be Extra Careful in Your Daily Activities

Taking extra precaution in your daily tasks is also recommended. Keep the affected arm protected from sunburn or burns.


Avoid vigorous, repetitive movements against resistance with the affected arm like scrubbing, pulling or pushing, just to name a few.


Lastly, keep your fingers protected from needle pricks and sharp objects. If you like sewing, make sure to always use a thimble when possible.

Do take note that these treatment options are for early stage lymphedema. For lymphedema in the advanced stages, surgical intervention may be the better option. In any case, it’s best to talk to your doctor in such cases.


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