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What is Lymphedema?

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is swelling, usually in arms and/or legs, which occurs when your lymphatic system is unable to adequately drain lymph fluid. 


Symptoms include:

  • Swelling of arm and/or leg (including toes and fingers)
  • A feeling of heaviness or tightness
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Aching or discomfort
  • Recurring infections
  • Hardening and thickening of the skin (fibrosis)
The lymphatic system circulates lymph fluid throughout your body to collect waste products.  This fluid, full of harmful waste products, is carried to your lymph nodes, via lymph vessels, where it is processed and flushed from your body.  Lymphedema occurs when your lymph vessels are unable to adequately drain the lymph fluid.

Common causes of lymphedema include:

  • Surgery-lymph nodes may be removed to check for the spread of cancer and lymph nodes may be injured during surgery that involves blood vessels in limbs
  • Radiation treatment-cancer radiation treatment can cause scarring and inflammation of lymph nodes and lymph vessels
  • Cancer-cancer cells and/or tumors can block lymphatic vessels and damage lymph nodes
  • Infection-infection in the lymph nodes and/or parasites can block lymph nodes and lymph vessels; this is most common in developing countries

There is no cure for lymphedema but it can be managed.  Check back later for information on treatment options. 

References: www.cancer.gov and www.mayoclinic.org

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