Lymphedema can cause your limbs to hurt or swell. When lymphedema is caused by cancer or cancer treatments, you may notice the changes in your limb years later.
Regardless of what causes your lymphedema, lymphedema doctors like Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Ronnie G. Smalling understand your confusion and discomfort. A CT scan at a lymphedema clinic can diagnose the cause behind your symptoms, and treatments like exercises can reduce them.
Lymphedema is limb swelling and other symptoms caused by lymph fluid being unable to correctly travel through the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system is composed of lymph vessels and lymph nodes. Lymph vessels carry lymph fluid throughout the body to gather waste. Your lymph nodes then filter the fluid to remove the waste from your body.
Lymphedema can either be primary or secondary.
Primary lymphedema is inherited and caused by conditions that impact the lymph system, such as Milroy's disease and lymphedema praecox.
The more frequent of the two, secondary lymphedema is the result of injury to the lymph vessels or nodes, such as from:
The majority of secondary lymphedema cases in the United States are due to breast cancer surgery, followed by radiation.
Risk factors of secondary lymphedema include obesity and old age.
Lymphedema can be mild or severe, affecting your appearance varyingly. In addition to swelling or disfigurement in the arms or legs, lymphedema symptoms can include:
Identifying a blockage in your lymphatic system is one way to diagnose lymphedema. Imaging tests used to test for lymphedema include a CT scan and a lymphoscintigraphy, the latter which involves a radioactive dye injection to monitor movement through the lymph vessels.
Used to treat peripheral vascular disease at the Smalling Vascular Institute, a Doppler ultrasound can also search for obstructions in blood flow and rule out conditions like deep venous thrombosis.
While there is no cure for lymphedema, there are ways to reduce the symptoms. Treatments used to encourage lymph flow include:
In severe lymphedema, you may need to have excess lymph fluid drained. Dr. Smalling will work with you to determine which treatment(s) is ideal for you.
Ways to prevent secondary lymphedema include: