Patients > Lymphedema
What is Lymphedema?
You may know it as the problem that causes your feet to swell so you cannot wear regular shoes. Maybe you had breast cancer surgery, and your arm is now swollen out of proportion. It is upsetting and, if not managed, it can keep you from living life fully.
Though there isn’t a cure for lymphedema, it can be managed effectively with Lympha Press.
What causes swelling?
The lymphatic system is one of the human body’s drainage systems. The lymph system moves fluids and filters out debris. In fact, when your body is functioning normally, 90% of the water found in your blood is filtered through a healthy lymphatic system.
However, when lymph nodes or lymph vessels are damaged, fluid cannot move at the rate it is produced.
As fluid builds up, the affected area swells dramatically.
This buildup of fluid can cause skin changes such as hardening or “fibrosis“. The trapped fluid is a breeding ground for bacteria that can enter through cuts in the skin, creating an increased risk for infections like cellulitis.
Whether an extreme case or just an extreme nuisance, lymphedema is progressive and can cause additional problems if left untreated.
Up to 10 million people in the United States live with lymphedema.
There are two types of lymphedema: primary and secondary.
Primary (hereditary) lymphedema
Primary (hereditary) lymphedema is caused by a congenital abnormality. It is diagnosed when a body’s lymphatic system has broken down over time or did not form correctly in utero. Specific causes of primary lymphedema include:
Milroy’s disease (congenital lymphedema):
This condition begins in infancy and produces improperly formed lymph nodes.
Meige’s disease (lymphedema praecox):
Lymphedema may occur as a result of Meige’s disease during puberty, pregnancy, or up until an individual is 35.
Late-onset lymphedema (lymphedema tarda):
Late-onset lymphedema is atypical and often presents in individuals after age 35.
Secondary (acquired) lymphedema
Secondary (acquired) lymphedema occurs when there is damage to or impairment of the lymphatic system. It is more common than primary lymphedema and can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
Tumor growth that occurs near lymph vessels and lymph nodes can cause lymphedema if the tumor blocks the flow of lymphatic fluid. Up to 50% of breast cancer survivors and 100% of those living with head and neck cancers will develop lymphedema.
Lymph nodes are often removed from patients who have breast cancer to check to see whether the cancer has spread. Any surgery that affects the blood vessels may cause damage to the lymph vessels and nodes.
During radiation treatment for cancer, it is possible for the lymph nodes to become damaged as a result of scarring and inflammation.
Any trauma to the body that results in damage to lymph vessels, lymph nodes, or both can lead to lymphedema.
Parasites that enter the lymphatic system or an infection in the lymph nodes can impede the movement of lymphatic fluid. This kind of secondary lymphedema is more prevalent in the tropic and subtropic areas of the world, and is more likely to occur in developing countries.
Though the causes of lymphedema can vary, compression therapy is one of the most effective ways to treat this condition because it reduces swelling and promotes circulation of the lymphatic fluid.
Stages of Lymphedema
Before the onset of objective swelling in an affected body part, patients complain of symptoms typically described as a generalized aching, heaviness, or a "strange feeling." Focal discomfort and a change in contour or volume are not present in this stage.
In Stage 1 lymphedema, the affected area appears puffy, making it difficult to see veins on the tops of the hands and feet. Pressing the skin over the affected area can leave impressions; this is called “pitting” edema. Patients may notice their swelling temporarily improves with elevation or overnight, but increases again during the day.
This fluctuation could be the result of a lower concentration of protein if the lymphedema has only just begun to develop, or could occur because the lymphedema has not yet produced fibrosis.
In Stage 2 lymphedema, the swollen areas become “spongy” and there is less pitting. Elevating the affected limb no longer alleviates the swelling; this is due to tissue changes occurring in the affected area from the excess lymphatic fluid. The tissue scarring (fibrosis) causes the tissue to gradually thicken, and the affected area begins to grow in size.
In Stage 3 lymphedema, the affected limb has grown noticeably larger and its weight may become incapacitating. Lymph fluid may leak. The skin in the affected area becomes dry and scaly, and may develop infections. Skin growths (including blisters) may occur as the body works to stop fluid leakage; these growths increase the risk of infection.
What is Fibrosis?
Fibrosis feels like hard, thick tissue. The underlying factor? Insufficient movement of lymphatic fluid.
Lympha Press can help. Our therapy increases lymph fluid uptake and flow in lymphedema-affected limbs, including in patients with fibrotic changes.*
Because Lympha Press has an adjustable range of pressures, your doctor can select a protocol featuring higher pressures necessary to treat fibrotic tissue. By treating fibrosis in the initial stages of development, progression can be slowed and potentially stopped.
Compression remodels fibrotic tissue, makes it softer, and ultimately improves circulation.**
* J lnnov Opt Health Sci. 2017 Mar;10(2). pii: 1650049. doi: 10.1142/ S1793545816500498. Epub 2016 Sep 28. Effect of pneumatic compression therapy on lymph movement in lymphedema-affected extremities, as assessed by near-infrared fluorescence lymphatic imaging. Aldrich MB1, Gross D2, Morrow JR1, Fife CE3, Rasmussen JC1.
** Textbook of Lymphology: for Physicians and Lymphedema Therapists, 3e 3rd Edition, by Michael Foldi (Editor), Ethel Foldi (Editor), Cornelia Striiflenreuther (Editor), Stefan Kubik (Editor).
Overall, 80% to 90% of women who will develop lymphedema do so within 3 years of breast cancer treatment.1
As part of their surgery, many people with breast cancer have at least two or three lymph nodes removed from under the arm (sentinel lymph node biopsy), and sometimes many more nodes (axillary lymph node dissection). If the cancer has spread, it has most likely moved into the underarm lymph nodes first because they drain fluid from the breast. Many people also need radiation therapy to the chest area and/or underarm. Surgery and radiation can cut off or damage some of the nodes and vessels that fluid moves through. Over time, this can overwhelm the remaining pathways, resulting in a backup of fluid into the body’s tissues. 2
1.Norman SA, Localio AR, Potashnik SL, et al. Lymphedema in breast cancer survivors: incidence, degree, time course, treatment, and symptoms. J Clin Oncol. 2009;27:390-7.
Be encouraged by what medical professionals and patients have to say about their Lympha Press post-mastectomy therapy.
Lympha Press offers effective treatment for post-mastectomy lymphedema patients.
Tips for Patients with Lymphedema
- Tip #1Follow your prescribed home treatment program! Make Lympha Press therapy a relaxing part of your daily routine.
- Tip #2If you have been prescribed compression stockings or garments, be sure to wear them according to your medical practitioner’s instructions.
- Tip #3Maintain a healthy body weight and follow your medical practitioner’s recommendations on exercises that are helpful at controlling swelling.
- Tip #4Take good care of your skin and recognize signs of infection. Avoid cuts and irritations. Keep your skin clean and use a moisturizer regularly. People with lymphedema are prone to infections (cellulitis). Know the signs and symptoms of infection and notify your medical practitioner if any of these appear.
- Tip #5Avoid wearing tight jewelry or clothing on your affected limb, which could restrict circulation and cause swelling.
- Tip #6If you have upper extremity lymphedema, use a rolling suitcase instead of carrying shoulder bags when travelling.
- Tip #7Avoid exposure to extreme heat or cold.
- Tip #8Have regular checkups with your medical professional. Report any changes in your lymphedema (increase or decrease in swelling, changes in sensation, skin color or condition).
Find Strength in Community
Living with lymphedema is challenging. Learn from others with this condition how they effectively manage–and thrive–while living with lymphedema.
The Lymphedema Patient Roundtables are held virtually on the second Tuesday of each month at 8:00 PM EST. Register to join us live and participate in the conversation! If you can’t make it to the webinar, we’ll send you an email with the replay to watch at your convenience.