What is lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a swelling of the tissues which occurs when fluid builds up due to poor lymphatic drainage. It can involve any part of the body, but is most common in the arms or legs.
Lymphoedema differs from other forms of swelling (oedema) in that it can lead to changes in the skin and underlying tissues such as hardening called fibrosis or thickening.
There is also a greater risk of developing an infection in the affected limb or area.
What is oedema?
Oedema occurs when fluid builds up in the tissues and causes swelling. There are many different causes including:
- poor drainage of the lymphatic system
- poor function of the veins
- heart or kidney problems
- obesity; prevents lymph drainage
- lifestyle; legs being kept down with limited movement, for example wheelchair use or sleeping in a chair at night.
The lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is a one-way drainage system which continually transports fluid from the body's tissues back into the blood circulation.
The fluid (lymph) is carried along a network of lymphatic vessels to be filtered in the lymph nodes before entering the blood.
Primary lymphoedema is the result of an abnormal or underdeveloped lymphatic system. You are born with this swelling.
Secondary lymphoedema is due to damage or blockage of the lymphatics caused by a secondary source such as cancer treatment, surgery, infection obesity or poor vein function.
Note: Not all oedema or lymphoedema is cancer related.
If left untreated, swelling becomes more persistent over time, along with skin changes and decreased mobility. The risk of skin infections (cellulitis) is also increased and can cause further damage.
Increase in pain and discomfort may also impact on mobility and general quality of life.
Management is linked to the underlying cause of the swelling and the various options include:
- medication review
- skin care to maintain good skin condition and prevent infection
- exercise to promote lymph drainage
- limb elevation where indicated
- compression hosiery or bandaging to reduce and control swelling
- lymphatic massage when appropriate
- lifestyle changes: weight reduction where indicated, or going to bed at night if this is not your usual pattern
Our partnership approach
Ultimately treatment is aiming for patients and carers to be self-managing their condition in partnership with the service.
Achievement of treatment goals can only happen on a long term basis as you commit to carrying out the jointly set-up plan that has been tailored for you.
Treatment aims for lymphoedema
Lymphoedema is a lifelong condition, the treatment is aimed at reducing the swelling and managing the condition on a long term basis.
Lincolnshire Lymphoedema Service
Will see people who have both chronic (long-term) oedema and lymphoedema.
You can be referred to this service by any of the health professionals: GP, consultant, district nurse, practice nurse, physiotherapist or podiatrist.
The service offers advice, support, assessment and treatment for chronic oedema and lymphoedema.