Your lymph system is a vital part of your immune system and overall health. This system of nodes and vessels carries lymph fluid back and forth to your heart. It filters bacteria and waste out while transporting white blood cells and oxygen to fight infections and viruses.
So when your lymph system isn’t working as it is supposed to, it can lead to much bigger problems. It’s about much more than the lymphatic system itself.
Lymphedema is a blockage in the lymph system that prevents lymph fluid from draining as it should. This weakens your immune system. Your arms or legs may swell. You may experience pain in the legs. Other symptoms include feeling heavy, immobility, itching, fluid buildup, or inflammatory reactions.
Lymphedema often results when lymph nodes are removed because of cancer, often breast cancer, surgery, or radiation. A tumor can also block or harm the lymph system. Advancement in cancer treatment is leading to removing fewer lymph nodes in treatments. Physical therapy, massage, and compression clothing are helping to reduce negative effects as well.
Lymphedema caused by another disease or treatment, such as due to cancer, is called secondary lymphedema. Secondary lymphedema is more common than primary lymphedema, which occurs without an initial cause.
Blockage in the lymphatic system leads to fluid buildup and swelling, most often in the arms and legs.
Lymphedema can cause swelling of a toe or toes all the way to extreme swelling of one or both legs. Symptoms also include restricted movement and feeling heavy or tight along the whole leg. There can be leg pain and aching. There can also be fibrosis, or hardening and thickening of the skin.
A healthy lymphatic system delivers white blood cells and oxygen to an injured or infected area. A weakened or entirely blocked lymphatic system can mean wounds are slower to heal. Increased or worse scarring is possible. Bacterial or viral illnesses are more difficult to fight.
A cancer survivor could go years after the treatment before experiencing complications or effects from lymphedema.
There is no cure for lymphedema. It is more manageable if identified and treated early.
Contact your doctor immediately if you experience pain, new swelling, persistent swelling, or worsening swelling. Seeing a possible infection, especially on the skin, called cellulitis, could be a sign of lymphedema.
Risk factors for lymphedema are older age, obesity, and arthritis.
Preventative steps, most specifically for cancer patients, are available. Steps include protecting your legs from injuries, burns, or cuts, avoiding ice and heat, keeping your legs elevated, avoiding constricting clothing, and taking extra care with hygiene.
The vascular experts at South Valley Vascular in Visalia, Porterville, and Hanford, California, specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of diseases and conditions of the blood vessels. Our vascular surgeons will determine a treatment plan that provides the best benefits for your specific needs.