What is Lymphedema

Updated on: February 1, 2017

Lymphedema is a condition that is associated with swelling of either the legs or the arms. In most cases, it is only one extremity which is affected. Lymphedema of the leg is more common and the disorder is often confused with venous insufficiency. Many individuals are erroneously treated as having varicose veins thus leading to a delay in proper therapy.

Lymphatics are small vessels in the body whose function is to transport all tissue fluids back to the veins. The tissue fluid is normally rich in proteins and contains many different types of cells. Lymphatics generally drain lymph nodes and take all the fluid back to the veins. When the lymphatics get blocked for any reason, the fluids in the tissues will accumulate. Over time, the tissues will start to swell up. The fluid continues to accumulate and diffuses in the tissues and is very difficult to get rid of.

Once lymphedema occurs, there is no cure. However, lymphedema can be controlled. Surgery is not a part of treatment for lymphedema.

Signs and symptoms

Lymphedema typically affects the leg or the arm. Initially the symptoms may be mild but with time, swelling of the extremity will occur. Other symptoms include:

- Swelling of arm or leg. This is almost always one sided. The swelling usually involves the entire extremity. The swelling may extend from the toes/fingers and involve the entire arm or leg.

- Tightness
of the leg or arm

- Heaviness of the extremity

- Limited range of motion. The excess fluid seeps into the joints and prevents normal bending of the joint.

- Mild ache. as the condition progresses, pain of varying intensity may occur.

- Seepage of fluid from the skin

- Hard leathery skin

- Recurrent skin infections. The skin in the area is very prone to infection and most individuals need to have antibiotics to treat the infection.

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