Custom Care PT: Lymphedema


NEWSLETTER Health & Wellness Newsletter

What Is Lymphedema? You have an intricate network within your body known as the lymphatic system. Comprised of a variety of organs, tissues, nodes, and vessels, the lymphatic system helps your body fight infections by transporting a special clear fluid, called lymph, around the body. Lymph contains white blood cells, protein and fat cells of the immune system. Your lymphatic system also helps expel toxins and unwanted waste and returns fluids into the bloodstream. Lymphedema (sometimes called lymphoedema or lymphatic edema) occurs when the lymphatic system becomes compromised in some way. This prevents the appropriate flow and drainage of lymph fluid and leads to fluid retention and swelling (edema). Common Signs of Lymphedema Because lymphedema causes fluid retention, swelling is the primary sign. Patients with lymphedema typically notice swelling in some or all of one or more limbs. Hands, fingers, feet, and toes can also become affected. Clinicians can quickly assess whether swelling is mild, moderate, or severe by measuring the affected limb. If swelling is significant, a visible indentation will be left behind when pressing a finger into the tissue, which can last anywhere from a brief second to thirty seconds or longer, depending on severity. This sign is known as pitting edema. The extra fluid retained with the lymph system often gives rise to a sense of achiness, tightness, heaviness, fullness, or soreness in the limbs. People often find that they have a hard time moving their limbs and may experience decreased or abnormal sensations, such as tingling or persistent itchiness. Additional signs and symptoms of lymphedema include hardening of the skin (fibrosis) and an increased risk and frequency of infections (given the lymph system’s intricate role in the body’s immunity). MANAGING LYMPHEDEMA AND HOW PHYSICAL THERAPY CAN HELP DON’T LET PAIN BECOME A WAY OF LIFE! (continued from outside)

Causes of Lymphedema Lymphedema is generally classified as either primary (occurring as its own entity) or secondary (occurring because of another underlying medical condition). Primary lymphedema is often due to: • Milroy’s disease, which leads to abnormally formed lymph nodes • Late-onset lymphedema, developing in people 35 years and up • Meige’s congenital disease, also known as lymphedema praecox, which develops during or before puberty • Cancer treatment, including radiation and surgical removal of lymph nodes for the purposes of biopsy (this is one of the most common causes of lymphedema) • Infection of the lymph nodes • Surgery or trauma that damages the lymph nodes and vessels • Obesity • Advancing age • Certain autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis Lymphedema is typically diagnosed using a combination of imaging, lab tests, patient history, and physical examination techniques. Secondary lymphedema is often due to: • Cancer of the lymph nodes

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