Swollen Arms or Legs? You could be suffering from Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a condition where protein-rich fluid builds up and causes swelling in the arms or legs. Most commonly, this occurs after damage or removal of your lymph nodes during cancer treatment. The disease is not completely treatable; however, like most other medical conditions, early detection and treatment of lymphedema is critical for successful outcomes. Do you and your family members know the signs, symptoms, and risk factors for lymphedema?

Four risk factors for lymphedema:

  1. Genetics: Your genetic background can predispose you to developing lymphedema. You may develop lymphedema throughout any phase of life, and based on your age of development, you will be classified into three subgroups: congenital (birth to 1 year old), praecox (1-35 years old), and tarda (onset of symptoms after 35 years old).
  2. Lymph node removal: In women who have undergone axillary lymph node dissection due to breast cancer, the risk of developing lymphedema ranges from 20-53%. For women who have had sentinel lymph node dissection due to breast cancer, the risk of developing lymphedema ranges from 5-17%.
  3. Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy, especially direct exposure to an area of lymph node location, may increase your risk for developing lymphedema.
  4. Obesity: Excessive fat tissue may increase the amount of fluid in the extremities and place stress on the lymphatic system, which may result in the faulty removal of fluid and lymphedema.

Signs and symptoms of lymphedema:

  1. Increase of 2 cm (just under 1 in.) in circumference of upper extremity (for upper-extremity lymphedema)
  2. Redness and swelling
  3. Decreased range of motion
  4. Difficulty wearing bracelets, watches, and rings
  5. Pins-and-needles sensation in the affected arm
  6. Difficulty swallowing after neck surgery

Physical therapists have the ability to treat lymphedema with specific hands-on techniques. For more information or to inquire about lymphedema treatment, please contact us at info@sptny.com

Sources

  1. http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/lymphedema/risk_factors
  2. Shon W, Ida C, Boland-Froemming J, Rose P, Folpe A. Cutaneous angiosarcoma arising in massive localized lymphedema of the morbidly obese: a report of five cases and review of the literature. Journal Of Cutaneous Pathology [serial online]. July 2011;38(7):560-564. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 24, 2014.
  3. Connell F, Brice G, Jeffery S, Keeley V, Mortimer P, Mansour S. A new classification system for primary lymphatic dysplasias based on phenotype. Clinical Genetics [serial online]. May 2010;77(5):438-452. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 20, 2014.
  4. Shinawi M. Lymphedema of the lower extremity: is it genetic or nongenetic?. Clinical Pediatrics [serial online]. November 2007;46(9):835-841. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 20, 2014.
  5. Deng J, Murphy B, Ridner S, et al. Impact of secondary lymphedema after head and neck cancer treatment on symptoms, functional status, and quality of life. Head & Neck [serial online]. July 2013;35(7):1026-1035. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 24, 2014.
  6. http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/lymphedema/signs