What is Lymphedema?
Lymphedema is a medical condition that occurs when part of the lymphatic system is damaged, blocked and/or missing. As a result, the body can lose its ability to drain waste-filled fluid from the affected area causing chronic, progressive swelling, pain and can lead to other dangerous health complications.
Lymphedema affects each person differently. The onset may be acute or gradual and can be temporary or chronic. It can be very localized, meaning one specific part of the body (hand, arm, foot, leg, armpit, abdomen, buttocks, face...) or more body-wide (both legs, both arms, entire trunk, right side of the body, left side of the body and even all over). The psychological impact of lymphedema is often not mentioned and underestimated.
Lymphedema currently has no cure and once at risk for it, the risk never goes away. It can show up 10, even 15 years after the initial damage. If left undiagnosed, untreated and unmanaged, lymphedema can become disfiguring, disabling and will destroy lives. This is why early intervention, management and community are so important!
Learn about the lymphatic system: Understanding our Lymphatic System & How it Works
Stages of LymphedemaLymphedema is classified into two types: primary lymphedema and secondary lymphedema. While the origins of primary and secondary lymphedema are vastly different, the way one manages lymphedema is the same: compression and self-care. Learn more about the difference between Active Massage and classic compression.
Primary LymphedemaPrimary lymphedema is a genetic (inherited) condition that may show symptoms at birth or later in life. People with primary lymphedema have a deficiency in the development of their lymphatic system. This includes abnormal or missing lymph nodes or lymph vessels that can prevent the lymphatic system from properly draining fluid from the tissues.
Milroy's disease (congenital lymphedema). Begins at infancy.
Meige's disease (lymphedema praecox). Often shows up during puberty or pregnancy, although it can occur later, through age 35.Late-onset lymphedema (lymphedema tarda). Begins after age 35.
Secondary LymphedemaSecondary lymphedema can be brought on as a result of another condition or disease which causes permanent damage to the lymphatic system. This often occurs from cancer treatments (general surgery, lymph node removal and/or radiation), cancer, trauma, injury or infection.
Surgery - Any extensive surgery that cuts across lymphatic vessels may cause lymphedema.
Lymph Node Removal - Removal/Injury of lymph nodes and vessels may cause lymphedema.
Radiation Treatment - Radiation may cause scarring and inflammation of the lymph nodes and/or lymph vessels which can cause lymphedema.
Cancer - Tumors may block lymphatic pathways which may cause lymphedema.Trauma - Injury that causes permanent damage to the lymphatic system may cause lymphedema.
Infection - Infection of the lymph nodes or parasites within lymph vessels may cause lymphedema. Most infection-related lymphedema occurs in tropical and subtropical regions and in underdeveloped countries. No matter how one develops lymphedema, those affected may deal with the same health and psychological issues along with misdiagnosis and misunderstanding.