Lymphedema is a blockage of fluid produced by the lymphatic system. As part of your immune system, your lymph nodes are responsible for maintaining the proper level of fluids in your body. When the lymph nodes are damaged or removed, the typical drainage that the lymphatic system provides becomes impaired. Fluids that would be processed through and out of your body build up and cause persistent swelling. These fluids include proteins, fats, and white blood cells.
Lymphedema is an underdiagnosed condition, originally thought to primarily occur in post-cancer patients or in third-world countries developing from parasite infections such as filariasis. A better and recently improved understanding of the lymphatic and venous systems has actually shown that the number one cause of lymphedema in the United States is chronic venous insufficiency. The venous and lymphatic systems work together intricately to return fluid back to our heart. When the vein system is chronically overwhelmed with pressure, the lymphatic system will eventually be damaged. This leads to a medical condition called phlebolymphedema.
Some of the risk factors that can cause lymphedema include:
Failing valves in the veins of our legs lead to the pooling of blood in our feet and ankles. As pressure builds, fluid leaks out of the veins, and then it becomes the responsibility of the lymphatic system to return the blood back to our heart. If there is enough pressure, or if this occurs long enough, the lymphatics become overwhelmed to the point that they dilate and damage. This leads to a permanent compromise of fluid returning out of the legs, back to the heart.
Obesity leads to an increased pressure on our vascular system, higher states of inflammation in the body, and slower healing after injury, all of which can lead to irreversible damage of the lymphatic system.
The removal of lymph tissue, nodes, and vessels due to breast or other cancers is a very common cause. These nodes are often removed to monitor the spread of cancer.
Cancer itself can contribute to lymphedema symptoms, especially if a tumor is located very near a lymph node or lymph vessel. The removal of lymph tissue, nodes, and vessels due to breast or other cancers is a very common cause. These nodes are often removed to monitor the spread of cancer.
Infections that affect lymph nodes are often encountered in tropical regions and developing countries.
Primary lymphedema diseases
These include Milroy’s disease and Meige disease, which are conditions that affect the formation or function of the lymphatic system.
The most common symptoms that arise from lymphedema include:
- Persistent swelling in the extremities, either localized or widespread, which may include swelling of fingers and toes
- Aching and discomfort
- Thickening of the skin
- Recurring infections
Therapy and Treatment
Photo courtesy of Tactile Medical
Heart of Dixie Vein and Vascular Center specializes in treating and caring for patients who are experiencing lymphedema. While there is no cure for lymphedema, we can ease the pain through therapy options, including manual lymphatic drainage or pneumatic compression devices, that can help move the fluid away from the area of build-up and into working lymph nodes where the fluid will drain. We can also assist with persistent infections that can occur.
If you suffer from lymphedema in St. George, UT, or the surrounding areas, there is no need to continue living with discomfort and pain. Give us a call and make an appointment to see our friendly and knowledgeable doctors and staff. It would be our pleasure to help you find comfort.