Lymphedema is a build up of lymph fluid that causes swelling in a part of the body as the result of cancer, varoscosities, and/or surgery. It can develop if there are problems with the lymphatic system. The condition is caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system, part of the immune and circulatory systems. Lymphedema is most commonly caused by lymph node removal or damage due to cancer treatment. Other causes include overload to the lymphatic system due to surgery, venous insufficiency, varicose veins, and/or spider viens. The onset can be gradual over time and also due to physiological changes (pregnancy, diabetes, or trauma). The main symptom is swelling in an arm or leg that may be accompanied by pain or discomfort. Exercise, wrapping, massage, skin care, nutrition, elevation, and compression are key components to successful treatment.
- Exercises. Gentle contraction of the muscles in the arm or leg can help move the excess fluid out of the swollen limb.
- Manual lymph drainage. Massage-like technique use very light pressure to move the trapped fluid in the swollen limb toward an area with working lymph vessels. People should avoid manual lymph drainage if they have a skin infection, blood clots or active cancer in the affected limb.
- Compression bandages. Using low-stretch bandages to wrap the entire limb encourages lymph fluid to flow back toward the trunk of the body.
- Compression garments. Close-fitting elastic sleeves or stockings can compress the arm or leg to encourage lymph fluid drainage. These garments often require a prescription to ensure that the proper amount of compression is used. You may need to be measured by a professional to ensure proper fit.
- Sequential pneumatic compression. A sleeve worn over the affected arm or leg connects to a pump that intermittently inflates the sleeve, putting pressure on the limb and moving lymph fluid away from the fingers or toes.
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