Our bodies have a network of lymph nodes and lymph vessels that collect water, clear lymph fluid and carry it through all parts of the body. Lymph fluid is made up of proteins, salts and water, as well as white blood cells, which help fight infections. Lymph nodes are small collections of tissue that work as filters for harmful substances and help fight infection.
Lymphedema is a collection of protein-rich lymphatic fluid. The swelling can be progressive in the part of the body affected. It essentially has two origins. One would be a malformation of vessels that the individual is born with. This primary lymphedema may not appear until teen years or young adulthood. The other possible origin is secondary to an event that has compromised or damaged the lymphatic system in a region of the body.
You may experience symptoms that include:
- Persistent swelling
- A feeling of "heaviness" in a body part
- Tightening of the skin
- Hardening of the limb
- Decreased flexibility and function
- If swelling, with or without pain, lasts for 1-2 weeks
- If any part of the affected arm suddenly swells or feels hot
- If you have a temperature higher than 100.5
Hundreds of thousands of people in the US have lymphedema. If someone in your immediate family has primary lymphedema, it is possible you are prone to it. Others at risk include anyone who has had a direct damage to the lymphatic system including those with various treatments for cancer. Obesity can increase one's likelihood of developing lymphedema.
There are safe practices if you are at risk that include careful hygiene, avoidance of trauma and avoidance of insect bites.
Generally lymphedema does not exceed the boundaries of the region it is in. The severity and its effects on the tissues can increase to the point of fibrotic tissue change. There can be complications, the most common of which is infection, usually cellulites. It is important to gain control of the edema and limit or stop its progression.
Each person's program will vary and may require some or all components of the program. The Greater Baltimore Lymphedema and Rehabilitation Center employs a highly effective European-based treatment called Comprehensive Decongestive Therapy.
· Phase One may consist of evaluation, patient education, skin care, manual lymph drainage, compression wraps, scar management, exercises and functional activity.
· Phase Two includes the adherence to a self management program to continue to control the swelling and may include wearing of compression sleeves or stockings or face compression straps and will include continued vigilance to prevent increases in swelling. It includes periodic follow-up visits with the team.
Treatment for Lymphedema is approved for reimbursement to Medicare, most managed care organizations and most private commercial carriers. Referrals are accepted directly from individual with lymphedema, cancer support groups, acute care and rehabilitation hospitals, home health agencies, physicians, case managers, therapists and concerned family and friends. The Greater Baltimore Lymphedema and Rehabilitation Center will assist patients in obtaining necessary insurance authorizations for therapy.