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Lymphedema Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Blood vessels in our body are composed of arteries that carry blood to each organ, veins that carry blood from each organ to the heart, and lymphatic system. Among them, the lymphatic system, which operates as the second circulatory system, is composed of lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, and lymphatic fluid, and is an important part that directly participates in the immune function of the body. Lymphedema refers to a disease in which the lymphatic system, which performs these important functions, is damaged, and the discharge of lymph fluid, which carries immune antibodies, is impaired. It is known to cause swelling and pain in the arms and legs due to the abnormal accumulation of protein-rich lymph fluid between the skin and muscles.

Lymphedema can be broadly classified into congenital and acquired depending on the cause. In congenital cases, the lymphatic vessels are blocked due to genetic abnormalities, resulting in swelling of the arms and legs, which is progressively worse. In addition, it is known that the occurrence of acquired parts is caused by occlusion of lymph nodes or lymphatic vessels due to malignant tumors, or surgery that inevitably removes lymph nodes to completely remove cancer cells during cancer surgery. In particular, it is known to occur frequently after surgery for cancer such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or uterine cancer that requires extensive removal of lymph nodes.

In addition, during radiation therapy after surgery, lymph nodes or lymphatic vessels are temporarily damaged, causing lymphatic fluid to accumulate in an abnormal form and cause swelling. Now, let’s take a look at the main symptoms of lymphedema, as well as various information about treatment and management.

Lymphedema main symptoms

The main symptom of lymphedema is swelling of the arms and legs. When such edema occurs in the limbs, it is accompanied by a feeling of heavy and tightness at the beginning, and at the same time, dull pain and tingling sensation in the skin are felt. After that, as it progresses a little more, the skin becomes firm and thickens, keratosis becomes severe, exfoliation of the skin and repeated forms of eczematous dermatitis occur. In addition, when the skin of the swollen leg is pressed with a hand, a concave hand mark is seen, and symptoms such as concave edema that take time for the mark to return to its original shape may appear. And if the symptoms get worse, the skin may become hard and may not enter even when pressed. In addition, fatigue, general weakness, and decreased range of motion are also symptoms that may appear when symptoms of lymphedema appear.

If the pain corresponding to the main symptom of lymphedema persists, it causes great difficulties in life, and in the long term, it acts as a cause of significantly lowering the quality of life. In addition, the lymph fluid contained in lymphedema can cause lymphangitis because the proliferation of bacteria is easy, and in severe cases, complications such as sepsis can occur. Although it is known that there is no specific method for the prevention of lymphedema, if it is detected early and received appropriate treatment, it can be recovered quickly. Therefore, if symptoms such as edema continue to appear, it is important not to delay treatment, but to receive accurate treatment from a specialist and conduct a detailed examination. In addition, even if swelling or pain persists even after 2-3 months have passed since treatment such as chemotherapy, it is important to consult with a medical team for appropriate treatment and management.

Lymphedema treatment and management

1. Accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment

Lymphedema is diagnosed after surgery through a number of tests, including lymphangiography and radioiodized human serum albumin, to check the flow of lymph and whether the connection is damaged. After that, depending on the diagnosis result, it is largely divided into non-surgical conservative treatment and surgical surgical treatment. Non-surgical conservative treatment includes physical therapy to remove edema to increase lymph flow with massage, compression therapy to drain lymph fluid by applying pressure to the arms and legs, drug therapy to administer drugs such as benzopyrene, and rehabilitation therapy. In addition, local photothermal therapy, in which the limb with lymphedema is heated with an electric heater at 120°C, is one of these conservative treatments. And if symptoms do not improve with only these conservative treatments, lymphatic venous connection method that connects lymphatic vessels to veins, lymph node transplantation in which normal lymph nodes are harvested and transplanted to the site of occurrence, and lymphedema removal and suction Various surgical methods such as liposuction can be performed. Lymphedema has no concept of a cure even if the symptoms are relieved through these various treatment processes, so it is most important to manage it continuously even after treatment.

2. Moderate intensity exercise

In order to improve the symptoms and prevent lymphedema, it is very important to do moderate-intensity exercise regularly. In particular, moderate-intensity muscle exercise is recommended because it helps the discharge and circulation of stagnant lymph in the arms and legs, and swimming is also said to be one of the recommended exercises because it promotes the circulation of lymph. In addition, walking, biking, and light aerobics are also known to help improve symptoms. However, too intense exercise is a cause of worsening the symptoms of lymphedema, so it is very important to exercise at an appropriate intensity for your body.

3. Posture correction

Sitting or standing in the same position for more than an hour can make symptoms worse, so it is recommended to improve these habits. In addition, tight-fitting clothes, accessories, and shoes can also cause symptoms aggravation, so it is recommended to wear clothes and shoes that are as comfortable and comfortable as possible.

Also, when you have swelling, it is recommended not to lift heavy bags, handbags, or objects, and it is recommended to limit the use of bags and handbags that are particularly worn over the shoulder. And when resting, it is recommended to raise the legs above the level of the heart rather than the level of the heart.

4. Healthy Eating

Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet centered on fresh vegetables and fruits is also an important habit for treatment and management. In addition, it is important to control a low-sodium diet, as intake of foods with high salt content can cause worsening of symptoms, and drinking plenty of water per day is also an important management habit.

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I am a contributor to Advancetec.co.uk. I am fascinated by technology overall, especially crypto and it's potential to disrupt the global financial system. But until that future comes, I am perfectly content immersing myself in gaming, movies, gadgets, and all of the other wonders of the modern world.