Living with Lymphedema

Living with Lymphedema
Lymphedema is not an easy condition to live with, but it is manageable if you are diligent in taking proper care of yourself and you become educated on possible risks and complications. Since it is such a visible condition, lymphedema can often affect a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence. This can be difficult to navigate, especially since there is no cure, and it is non-reversible. This means that it will be a life-long experience for people living with lymphedema. However, even though lymphedema is permanent, symptoms can be managed with proper care, and swelling and pain can be reduced. You can likely live a full and comfortable life as long as you are dedicated to your care.

What is Lymphedema
The lymphatic system is a vital aspect of the body, especially in regulating the immune system. A system of lymph vessels carries protein-rich lymph fluid throughout the body, and lymph nodes filter the fluid through cells that are used to fight infections and cancer. When this system is disrupted by conditions like cancer and obesity, the lymph vessels are not able to properly drain fluid from the affected area of the body. This causes an accumulation of fluid, usually in an arm or a leg, that creates noticeable and sometimes painful swelling.
Lymphedema is usually detected when there begins to be consistent swelling in an arm or leg that includes the fingers or toes. Other symptoms may be a restricted range of motion, thickening and hardening of the skin, and feelings of tightness or heaviness in the affected area. If you begin to notice any of these symptoms in your arms or legs, then it is vital that you consult with your doctor immediately so you can begin a plan of care.

Causes of Lymphedema
Lymphedema is most often caused by cancer and cancer treatments. Cancer cells or tumors that develop near lymph nodes and vessels can grow to the point of restricting the flow of lymphatic fluid. This creates an accumulation of fluid and subsequent swelling. Radiation that is used to eradicate cancer cells from the body can also cause lymphedema by scarring or inflaming lymph nodes and vessels, creating a disruption in the lymphatic system.
Lymphedema can also be caused by a hereditary condition that is passed down through generations. In other cases, it can be a side effect of chronic morbid obesity. The increased level of body fat and high blood pressure in a person living with obesity often puts intense strain on the body’s systems, including the lymphatic system. If the lymphatic system is overworked trying to carry lymph fluid throughout the body, then this can often cause accumulation and eventual pain and swelling. This is why a common treatment for lymphedema in obese patients is weight management.

Managing Lymphedema
When managing life-long lymphedema, the most important thing you can do is equip yourself with the tools and knowledge to manage your care. There is a lot to learn and understand about the condition, and it may seem overwhelming at first, but there are many healthcare providers who can assist you in the education and management process.

1) Work with a Lymphedema Therapist
When searching for a healthcare provider to support your care, it’s important that you find someone who is a Certified Lymphedema Therapist. This condition is complicated and widely misunderstood and mistreated. So, working with a therapist who specializes in lymphedema will be the key to your success. They will help you navigate the management of your pain and swelling and take steps to prevent the condition from progressing. They will also educate you on common risks and side effects of lymphedema, as well as how to monitor your body for any changes. Meeting regularly with your therapist will become an integral part of your care.

2) Wear Compression Garments
The first and absolutely most important form of management for lymphedema is to consistently and correctly wear compression garments. Wearing these garments will help to manage the pain and swelling in the affected area, as well as prevent your lymphedema from progressing to a more advanced stage. By keeping consistent compression on that area of your body, you are assisting your lymphatic system in keeping the lymph fluid moving. This won’t fully correct the damage to the system, but it will definitely help. Your therapist will direct you on when and how to wear the compression garments, and at what points they are most needed. You may be instructed to wear them all day, or only during high-impact or high-risk activities.

3) Educate Yourself on Risks
With lymphedema, one of the biggest risks is the advancement of the condition. Your therapist will educate you on what signs and symptoms to look for and how to prevent any advancement. But you need to be a good student of your condition. Ask questions, request educational material, take notes, etc. Do everything you can to fully understand what your body will be experiencing. You are the best advocate for your health, so take steps to take charge of your care.

4) Be Vigilant
When living with a condition like lymphedema, it is vital that you consistently monitor your body for any changes or possible progression. Any changes in your level of pain, swelling, skin texture, or mobility can be an indicator of complications. So, you should routinely check on the affected area and document any changes by noting them down or taking pictures. Be sure to always note the date as your provider will need to be aware of how long a certain symptom has been occurring. And always communicate with your therapist when you notice any differences in your lymphedema. They will be able to assess your condition and recommend any changes to your management.

5) Find Support
And finally, when navigating a condition like lymphedema, it’s important to surround yourself with people who care about you and understand what you’re experiencing. Reach out to your family and friends for support, and be open about how you’re feeling, physically and emotionally. Find support groups to join either in your area or online. Interacting with people who have shared experiences is a powerful form of support. Let these people be there for you when you are struggling. If one thing’s for certain, you can’t go through this alone.


Reading next

Varicose Veins Care and Prevention Tips
Winter Foot Care Tips

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.