Is it Edema or Lymphedema?

At one time or another, most of us have had to deal with swelling in certain parts of our bodies. Swollen legs from standing on your feet all day, a sprained wrist, puffy feet and ankles during pregnancy, or swelling in one arm after breast cancer surgery. To determine whether it is edema or lymphedema we need to know the factors responsible for the swelling. At this time there is no objective tool to accurately diagnose lymphedema. A diagnosis of lymphedema is based on clinical observation and thorough history.

Most injuries like strains and sprains cause edema. The swelling usually goes away within a couple weeks with ice and elevation. It’s expected to have edema following a surgery. It’s also common for women to have puffy feet and ankles nearing the end of a pregnancy. The excess weight can block the lymphatic system from proper circulation.These situations usually resolve themselves and over time the swelling goes away. But what happens when the swelling lasts longer than expected?

Lymphedema is classified as primary and secondary. Primary is due to congenital malformations in the lymphatic system such as defective valves or vessels. Secondary lymphedema is acquired. Some of the causes are dissection or removal of lymph nodes, radiation, trauma, surgery, infection, malignancies, chronic venous insufficiencies, immobility, deep venous thrombosis, and pregnancy. When there is chronic long term swelling damage is caused to the surrounding tissue. This compresses the delicate lymphatic vessels impeding proper lymphatic flow. When this happens protein in the fluid builds up causing fibrotic changes to the tissues. Accumulation of fluid also causes restricted movement of joints, postural abnormalities, and sensory changes due to compression of nerves. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms contact a Certified Lymphedema Therapist for help.

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