Lymphoedema is a chronic swelling (oedema) usually in the arm(s) or leg(s). It can also occur in other parts of the body due to an accumulation of lymphatic fluid. A badly swollen limb may result in loss of mobility, discomfort and pain. Coping with everyday activities may become difficult and affect the quality do life. It is not known how many people have this condition in Australia, however some researchers estimate that about 300 000 people may have some form of lymphodoema. People of all ages can be affected - infants, children, adolescents, men and women. There are two types of lymphoedema. Primary lymphoedema occurs when the lymphatic system is inadequate. Secondary lymphoedema is related to damage or blockage of the lymphatic system following surgery (mostly cancer related), radiation therapy, other medical conditions or infection.
The Signs and Symptoms:
The first sign of lymphoedema is an unexplained slow, painless swelling which may be indented by pressure (pitting). As swelling increases, discomfort and heaviness can contribute to loss of mobility. Later still as the swelling continues, the limb may become painful and no longer indentable by pressure. Changed appearance, altered body image and loss of everyday life skills may result in anxiety and depression.
The lymphatic system is a very important one. It channels the lymph fluid from the tissues back to the bloodstream, passing through the lymph nodes which act as filters. It plays an important part in the body's defence against infection. Lymphoedema occurs when there is a breakdown or blockage in this system resulting in the lymph fluid stagnating in the surrounding tissues and swelling occurs. The swelling is at first reversible but if it is untreated, the lymph fluid becomes thicker and difficult to remove. The body part involved can become hard and fibrous.
Lymphoedema can be managed and the swelling decreased by a program which may include a combination of specialised lymphatic massage, correct bandaging, compression garments, an exercise routine and skin care. Clinical treatment in aimed at reducing the swelling and educating the patient and family in these special skills so that the patient can control swelling. Throughout Australia, many therapists have now been trained to treat lymphoedema. Contact the Association for information about treatment facilities in your area. The earlier lymphoedema is diagnosed and treated, the more successful the results.
Enquiries : Telephone: 0403 782 795 (leave message for return call)
Or write to: The Secretary, PO Box 3068, Bracken Ridge, QLD, 4017