Does Lymphedema need to be treated?
What is lymphedema?
Lymphedema is the enlarging of a body part due to an accumulation of fluid, better known as lymph. This happens due to a break or injury to the lymphatic system either due to illness or genetic abnormality. While there can be an enlarging of the thorax, back, chest, most of the time, lymphedema is identified only when the upper or lower limb start to enlarge.
What causes lymphedema?
Lymphedema is caused by a break in the lymphatic system due to cancer, injury, surgery or genetic abnormalities.
Can Lymphatic drainage help you?
Lymphatic drainage can help patients heal after surgery by reducing swelling and detoxifying the body. Learn More.
What are the side effects of lymphedema?
Lymphedema has many side effects, most of them being at the skin level and at the lymph level; the first is at the level of the skin. When there has been swelling for a long period of time, the skin starts to adapt and stretch to accommodate this extra fluid. This stretching of the skin will create an area of lesser resistance for the fluid, so fluid will always gravitate to that area. After prolonged lymphedema, the consistency of the skin starts to change; it becomes more dry and scaly. Over time, it will also have patches of different colors, red, brown or white. These changes in the skin will make the skin more susceptible to bacterial infections such as cellulitis, which could be deadly if not treated promptly. Cellulitis is actually a vicious cycle in that cellulitis increases lymphedema levels, and lymphedema increases the chances of having cellulitis by at least 10 times.
Very severe and prolonged lymphedema might also cause the skin to create open sores in order to drain the lymph. These open sores will increase the chances of infections and are quite uncomfortable, as fluid will regularly leak out of the area.
The second side effect of prolonged lymphedema is the change in the lymph itself. The lymph will start out as being gel-like. If you press down on it, your finger will leave an indentation; this is referred to as pitting edema. Over time, if left untreated the gel-like consistency will change. In different areas of the swollen area can develop fibrosis, which is the hardening of the lymph. This will create more long-term side effects because it will further block the proper passage of the lymph.
Over very long periods of time if the lymph is left untreated, fat cells will develop in the area, which can prove to be dangerous. Fat cells are very highly vascularized, creating an environment, which promotes disease. Tumors can grow in the area, a very vicious form or cancer that is unfortunately untreatable.
What can you do to prevent these side effects?
- If you notice prolonged swelling in your body, book an appointment for a lymphatic drainage massage right away. People have a habit of putting off things that are good for their health, but it is much easier to treat lymphedema when it is just starting than when an area of the body has drastically changed.
- If you notice that there is pain or discomfort, it is important to contact your physician to rule out infection before booking a lymphatic drainage massage.
- If you have had a surgery removing several lymph nodes, you can use lymphatic drainage massage to prevent the development of lymphedema.
- Keep the skin clean and healthy by using scent-free soap, and then hydrating the skin with a scent-free and gently body cream.
- Follow the advice of the lymphatic drainage massage therapist.
- Regularly wear the compression clothing that is prescribed after the lymphatic drainage massage treatment program.
I’m Miriam Gaudelli, RMT BSc in Exercise Science Specialization in Athletic Therapy Sports, Kinetic Swedish, Vodder Lymphatic Drainage, Cranial Sacral Therapy. Sante & Physique is Certified from the Vodder Institute and listed with the Lymphedema Association of Quebec. Looking to book an appointment? Call us a 514–586–4441 or Book Online