What is lymphoedema?
Lymph is a high-protein fluid in the body which flows between soft tissues. Oedema is the scientific term for swelling. Lymphoedema, therefore, is a high-protein swelling resulting from fluid build-up in soft tissues, which then forms a solid mass.
How common is this condition?
The overall incidence of chronic lymphoedema is estimated at 0.13 to 2% worldwide. There are two types: primary and secondary lymphedema. The former occurs from birth; the latter can occur after surgery for removal of lymph nodes, after radiation therapy for the treatment of certain cancers or after parasitic infections.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of lymphoedema include heavy, tight and achy limbs, with swelling and decreased movement around the affected joints. The skin in the area becomes hard and thickened.
What treatments are available?
Physiotherapy can be useful for the management of lymphoedema; techniques include laser therapy, therapeutic massage, compression garments, manual lymph drainage and specific exercises. Your physiotherapist is also able to assist with advice to help manage the condition.
How can you help yourself?
- Educate yourself on the condition: look up as much information as you can in order to better inform yourself of what you can expect. However, be wary of those selling products as their information may be biased. Unregulated industries also have less restrictions on what they are allowed to say or promise when promoting their products.
- Look after the affected limb: make sure the skin is kept clean and dry, with breathable clothing and ventilation.
- Get regular exercise: daily exercise is important to help maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and maintain adequate hydration levels.
- Surround yourself with people you are comfortable with.