WHAT IS LYMPHEDEMA?
Lymphedema is a chronic, progressive condition where protein-rich swelling accumulates in the extremities.
The cause of lymphedema varies amongst individuals but always involves damage or malformation of the lymphatic system, including the lymph nodes or the connecting framework of vessels.
WHAT CAUSES LYMPHEDEMA?
In North American, the most common cause of lymphedema is lymph node resection as part of surgical cancer management. The incidence of lymphedema post-surgical management for breast cancer ranges from 6%–50% depending on the surgical procedure and radiation therapy.
After lymph node resection, individuals possess a lifetime risk of lymphedema. Any circumstance that increases lymph fluid volume may place an individual at risk i.e. surgery or trauma to the affected arm.
SIGNS OF LYMPHEDEMA
Some symptoms to look for that may appear before swelling include:
- Tingling, “bursting’ or “shooting” pain or pins and needles sensations that affect the arm, chest, shoulder or hand.
- The ability to create an indentation in the skin of the chest, arm, or hand. This may be most apparent if garments (ie. bra or jewellery) leaves an indentation on the skin. This is called ‘pitting’ edema.
- Veins or tendons are less apparent, most notably on the back of the hand. This indicates fluid accumulation in this compartment.
HOW IS LYMPHEDEMA TREATED?
Combined Decongestive Therapy (CDT) is effective in managing lymphedema and consists of 4 components; manual lymphatic drainage (MLD), compressive bandaging, decongestive exercises and skin care. CDT must be administered by a specially trained therapist.
Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) is a specific technique of tissue manipulation that increases flow through the lymphatic system, rerouting this fluid to undamaged areas so the extra fluid volume can be drained.