This is a 6-minute read.
Lymphedema and obesity are often intertwined medical issues. A study published in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery journal describes it as a “reciprocal relationship,” as an obese person is at a higher risk of developing lymphedema, and someone with lymphedema is more likely to become obese.
This article addresses some of the most common questions about the link between lymphedema and obesity. At the conclusion of the article, we’ll share helpful resources for self-managing your conditions.
What is Lymphedema?
Statistics show that approximately 1 in 1,000 Americans will be diagnosed with secondary lymphedema. Lymphedema is a dysfunction of the lymphatic system resulting in excess lymphatic fluid. The chronic, progressive accumulation of fluid causes excessive inflammation, swelling, tissue and skin changes, pain, feelings of heaviness in the affected limb, restricted mobility, and other health issues.
There are two main types: primary lymphedema and secondary lymphedema. Primary lymphedema is caused by a congenital abnormality such as a malformation of the lymphatic system causing difficulty processing fluids in the body.
Secondary lymphedema, which is also known as acquired lymphedema, is far more common and represents 99% of all cases in adults. It arises from lymphatic system damage and is most commonly found in the arms, legs, and trunk. The most common causes are surgeries, injuries, infections, and cancer.
Both primary and secondary lymphedema progress in stages with increasingly noticeable symptoms, worsening over time without proper treatment. The earlier you seek a diagnosis and begin to manage your lymphedema symptoms, the better your chances of preventing quick progression to the later stages of the condition.
How is Obesity Related to Lymphedema?
People with lymphedema are sometimes initially misdiagnosed as obese or their doctor determines that they have both conditions simultaneously. In the United States, 42% of people are obese. As the rate of clinical obesity rises worldwide, it is becoming more common for people to have clinical obesity while also managing other chronic health conditions like lymphedema.
According to another study published in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery journal, an obese person is at a higher risk of developing lymphedema due to the increased pressure their obesity exerts on their lymphatic system. With compromised baseline lymphatic function, they are more likely to have abnormal inflammatory responses and an impaired ability to maintain normal lymphatic movement.
New research is finding a strong connection between being severely obese and developing secondary lymphedema. A study published in the European Journal of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery found the diagnosis of simultaneous severe obesity and lymphedema doubled over a seven-year period.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that patients with both conditions tended to be younger and more likely to be male than those who just had lymphedema. Historically, lymphedema has been associated with women due to its strong connection to breast cancer-related lymphedema.
What Challenges Come With Having Both Conditions?
The patients in the aforementioned study had a higher incidence of cellulitis than those with severe obesity or lymphedema alone. Cellulitis is a type of infection leading to chronic wounds and venous stasis ulcers, which tend to be difficult to treat and slow to heal.
There is also a significant emotional and psychological impact that comes with having lymphedema, which could be compounded if you are also living with obesity. At times, you may feel frustrated, embarrassed, angry, or emotionally drained from managing your conditions, and it might be hard to maintain body positivity.
Lymphedema experts are now raising questions about whether people with obesity and lymphedema are receiving the full range of support they need. As the study’s authors noted, “These patients receive less specific therapy, such as compression for lymphedema, which has proven to reduce the incidence of cellulitis. It is important to increase awareness of the obesity correlation with lymphedema, allowing prompt diagnosis and better care at an earlier stage.”
Helping You Manage Your Lymphedema and Obesity
You deserve a comprehensive treatment plan to manage your lymphedema and obesity and help you live a full, active lifestyle. Lympha Press offers empowering and innovative pneumatic compression therapy options designed for a variety of body types and health conditions.
For example, Lympha Pants and arm sleeves are easily adjustable and size inclusive. These comfortable garments use chambers that inflate and deflate to offer a range of pressure options. You may also prefer the LymphaPod, which encompasses your body like a sleeping bag as it provides effective compression therapy.
Do you need additional information about living with obesity, lymphedema, or similar conditions? You’re welcome to explore the Lympha Press blog for more insights and support from a community of patients and medical professionals who understand your journey. At Lympha Press, we’re here to help you thrive!