Lymph nodes are part of the body's immune system. Located throughout the body, they serve as filters that help fight infection and disease. Lymphedema occurs when lymph nodes become blocked and are unable to drain off fluids. Most frequently occurring in the arms or legs, lymphedema can cause permanent skin changes, frequent infections, and a reduction in mobility. Primary lymphedema is inherited and occurs naturally, while secondary lymphedema is caused by other conditions or outside factors that lead to blocked lymph nodes, such as a lymph node infection, injury to a lymph node, cancer or tumor near a lymph node, radiation treatments for other cancers, and/or destruction or surgical removal of a lymph node during cancer surgery. Risk factors include advanced age, obesity, reoccurring skin infections, and rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis.
In extreme cases of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), faulty vein valves can sometimes lead to lymphedema. If CVI is present, The Vein Specialists provide targeted treatments in our Varicose Vein Clinic. Treating the CVI along with the lymphedema can ease symptoms and greatly improve quality of life.
Lymphedema is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Swelling in the affected limb that may extend to fingers or toes
- Feeling of heaviness, tightness, or itchiness in limbs
- Reduced mobility
- Aching or discomfort
- Frequent infections
- Skin breakage or blisters that leak lymphatic fluid
- Hardening and thickening of skin resembling that of an elephant
Seeking medical care quickly can prevent worsening symptoms or permanent damage.
Diagnosis of lymphedema and/or CVI requires a thorough physical examination and a review of symptoms and health history. In some cases, noninvasive imaging tests may be used to assess the lymphatic and vascular system and pinpoint blockages.
If addressed early, nonsurgical tactics can treat the symptoms of lymphedema and prevent it from worsening. Elevating the affected limb, eating a healthy, low-sodium diet, and regularly wearing compression bandages or wraps can help to reduce swelling. Performing gentle exercises can improve lymphatic fluid draining. Lymphatic massage can stimulate the flow of fluid and eliminate obstructions, and a pneumatic pump sleeve compression device can encourage proper flow.
Surgery to improve symptoms of lymphedema may be considered if the condition worsens despite the treatments listed above.
You have questions. We have answers.
Below you'll find answers to some of the questions we are commonly asked by patients. Please contact us at (828) 670-8346 with any additional questions or concerns.