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Lifting The Lid On Lymphodema.

Updated on April 22, 2012

Lymphatic system

What is Lymphodema?

What is Lymphodema and how can it be diagnosed?

Lymphodema is a condition caused by damage to the lymphatic system. This system is similar to the venal system. In the same way that the veins and arteries carry the blood throughout the body, the lymphatic system is almost a shadow network that transports the lymph fluid around the body.

The Primary Lymphodema is what one is born with.The Secondary Lymphodema is usually caused by damage to the lymphatic system either through an accident or more usually as a result of cancer treatments. In women it is more usually in the arms after breast cancer. In the legs after cancers affecting the lower parts of the body. Although it can be in other areas of the body also. Some people get swelling in the face, torso and genitals too.

Swelling and Pitting.

The condition usually presents itself as swelling. Initially it comes and goes with the aid of some diuretic tablets. After several appearances it remains and the swelling becomes permanent with what is called 'pitting'. When the swollen area is pressed, a dip in the swelling is noted. This is caused by retention of the lymph fluid in various locations around the body. Normally this lymph fluid is absorbed back into the blood stream through lymph nodes - like hubs sited at certain locations in the body, (see the diagram ).

This seemingly innocuous condition if left undiagnosed or treated will continue to accumulate increasing amount of fluid until the affected areas become distorted and painful. Until very recently, the majority of the medical profession were not even aware of the condition. With the number of cancer survivors increasing, so too has the number of people being affected by this incurable condition.

Lymph and Infection

Lymphatic system
Lymphatic system

Early diagnosis is vital.

If left untreated and without correct management it can become chronic. Morbid Lymphodema will result in loss of mobility, severe disability, pain and dangerous infection called cellulitis. The earlier that the patient is diagnosed to have lymphodema, the better are the chances that it can be successfully managed and controlled. Remember too, that many patients have suffered the trauma and depressions of cancer and its treatment. They have already been weakened by the chemotherapy and radiation or surgery. Now they face the next battle of contracting lymphodema. In addition to the physical distresses of the disease itself, there are the pyschological mood swings and depression to contend with. It is a real uphill struggle on a daily basis.

MLD & Bandaging.

The first thing to be done is to get referred to a clinic that deals with lymphodema. Often there is a long waiting list. Eventually after being assessed & measured, a course of MLD and bandaging will take several weeks. Once the swelling has been reduced, the patient will be given compression garments which must be worn all day everyday forever! Yes, it is 24/7 sentence. These compression garments should only be removed at night before sleeping. Without these compression garments, the limbs will again swell up as the lymph fluid gathers around the body.



Lower limbs

Lower Limbs affected
Lower Limbs affected

Living with Lymphodema.

People who suffer with the daily struggle of living with lymphodema are not looking for pity or praise. They simply want understanding of the condition and the limitations it places upon many of them. Just to get washed, dried and dressed takes a great deal of time and effort. Life becomes a series of daily hurdles, sometimes almost hourly in order to function as normally as possible.A simple scratch or insect bite can turn into a dangerous infection if not noticed and dealt with immediately. Journeys become challenges that need preplanning to avoid any problems for the sufferer and for others. Some days are good days but some days are not. It takes a great deal of endurance and encouragement to get through the dark days that inevitably come along.One learns to suffer in silence as very few people will understand what is involved in coping with lyphodema.

Upper & Lower Limbs affected

Upper Limbs affected
Upper Limbs affected

Keeping informed online.

Luckily, there are now a few online sites where sufferers can find information and join a forum to find others who are able to share their problems. A problem shared is a problem halved. At least knowing that there are others in the same boat helps reduce the feeling of isolation. Some links below provide additional information and contact points for those people who are interested to know more about lymphodema. Thank you for reading this article and if it gives help and guidance to others it will have been worthwhile posting.

Keeping informed about developments:

If anyone needs help or guidance they can contact me privately by email. I will be more than pleased to give whatever help or support I can. Only by keeping informed and constantly finding out more about lymphodema can we hope to beat this condition until the medics can come up with a cure, or better methods of management. Thanks again for reading.


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    • christollesseb profile image

      christollesseb 5 years ago from UK ME ASIA


      Fortunately you got off lightly & are able to function normally.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Cheers, Christo.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thank you! I've had lymphedema (an alternate spelling) since an infected spider bite last year. Fortunately, except for the need to wear a pressure stocking, I have no other ill effects. With proper care, we who have lymphedema can resume exercise, get proper nutrition, and heal over time, even more than doctors realize.

    • clairemy profile image

      Claire 5 years ago

      I speak as I find, and I see, and as for the wildlife hubs......I am hooked!!

    • christollesseb profile image

      christollesseb 5 years ago from UK ME ASIA

      Dear Clairmy,

      What a sweetheart you are! First to comment again and so compassionate and understanding. Thank you for comments and vote. I also love your beautifully researched Hubs on the endangered wildlife species and vulnerable habitat. Keep up the excellent work.


    • clairemy profile image

      Claire 5 years ago

      Today , yet again , I have learnt something not only new but very useful. I can see why it is misunderstood, but having read this I for one will look further and ask more questions. Its always good to have knowledge of such debilitating diseases.

      Yes, all who have it certainly deserve and need support and understanding.

      Voted up and useful and interesting