Lymphedema Q&A

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema is an accumulation of lymph in the vessels of the body leading to swelling and enlargement of the affected region. The lymphatic system closely parallels the circulatory system and carries the fluid known as lymph, around the body, and through various lymphatic nodes. Nodes are small glands found within the lymphatic system that are important in the immune system. If something causes these glands to be blocked or lymph vessels to be blocked, then lymph backs up within the vessels causing generalized swelling. 

What are some symptoms of lymphedema?

Symptoms of lymphedema include:

  • Swelling of the affected limb
  • Pain and aching of the limb
  • Discomfort
  • Infections and sores on the limb

How do you treat lymphedema in legs?

Lymphedema often does occur in the legs where it can be treated by a doctor who may recommend that you wear some type of compression garment. Bandages if properly applied to the legs may also help to move the lymphatic flow. Finally, wearing pneumatic pumps may alleviate some of the symptoms. 

Is lymphedema a form of cancer?

Lymphedema is not a type of cancer, but can certainly be caused by cancer because lymph nodes may be blocked by tumors, or the nodes may have to be removed which causes a buildup of lymph in the vessels. 

What are the causes of lymphedema?

Possible causes of lymphedema include:

  • Cancer or the treatment of cancer
  • Traumatic injury
  • Surgery
  • Infection
  • Extreme obesity
  • Idiopathic and genetics

Does walking help lymphedema?

Walking and other forms of light exercise may sometimes be helpful in lymphedema because it can help promote the flow of the lymph through your vessels. However, it may depend on the particular cause of the lymphedema. 

What foods should I avoid with lymphedema?

It is best to eat healthy foods that are high in fiber and rich in nutrients and to avoid high salt and high fat foods. Salt will make the body retain water so could make the problem worse and generally a healthy diet can only help your body to heal. 

Does losing weight reduce lymphedema?

For some patients, weight loss can be helpful but this does not work for everyone. Certainly weight loss can help make an obese person able to be more mobile, which then may allow them to move around more, which in turn, can help the lymph to flow more. Lymphedema can result in the legs in cases of extreme obesity where a person has a body mass index of 50, which means that losing weight could be helpful.

How do you unclog your lymphatic system?

Following treatment recommendations from your doctor is the best advice since they will be able to determine what the cause of the condition is and what the best treatment option for you is. The doctor may recommend using compression garments or even getting a massage to stimulate the flow of the lymph.

Does Lymphedema make you gain weight?

Lymphedema can give the appearance of a person who has gained weight because fluid accumulates in the tissues and the tissues swell up.

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