Lymphoedema is a persistent swelling of the arm, breast, leg, trunk and genitals that occurs because of a build up of fluid. Lymphoedema usually develops gradually and can develop months or even years after treatment of breast and inguinal cancer and melanomas. The build up of the fluid is due to malfunctioning of the lymphatic system which normally drains the fluid from the body’s tissue. If left untreated this build up of fluid can be difficult to control and may also lead to thickening of tissues (fibrosis).
The risk of developing Lymphoedema seems to be higher for people who have had several lymph nodes removed and for those who have had both surgery and radiotherapy.
Signs and symptoms
Early signs of Lymphoedema include:
A feeling heaviness, tightness or fullness in the limb
Swelling of the limb
Aching, pain or tension in the limb or surrounding areas
Some changes in the body are side effects of surgery or radiotherapy. These include reduced range of movement, loss of muscle strength, changes in sensation and tingling in the arm or fingers.
If you notice one or more of the changes above, you should discuss it with your physiotherapist.
The aim of managing Lymphoedema is to reduce and control swelling, improve range of movement of the affected area and prevent infections. The treatment recommended will vary depending on the severity of symptoms and how long you have had Lymphoedema. The management includes; manual lymphatic drainage, compression bandaging, exercises and compression garments.