A Guide to Lymphoedema
What is Lymphoedema?
Lymphoedema is a long-term (chronic) condition which results in a build-up of fluid in the tissues and is caused by an impaired lymph system. The word Lymphoedema literally means ‘swelling caused by a build-up of lymph fluid.’
Our lymph system is extremely sensitive and can fail for a number of reasons. Lymph vessels can get blocked or shut down throughout the process of draining fluid from our tissues; valves between lymph vessels can become damaged and allow a backflow of fluid towards the tissues; or simply the ability of our lymph vessels to contract can deteriorate. Any of these impairments to our lymph system will result in the fluid collecting within our tissues and lymph vessels which causes the swelling which is seen with this condition.
Where does it occur?
As a general rule of thumb, the fluid build-up associated with lymphoedema can develop anywhere in our body where there is an impaired flow in the lymph system. The most common place the lymphoedema tends to develop is in an arm or leg. It is less commonly seen in the genitalia, head or neck areas as these locations have lymph drainage on both sides meaning it would require a problem on both sides for the lymphoedema to occur. However, its important to remember that it has the potential to affect any part of the body.
So what happens?
Lymphoedema can develop in various ways. It normally starts as a mild swelling which might initially ease off, but at some point, will return and then become more permanent. As physical activity helps to regulate the lymph system, the effects of an impaired lymph system can often be seen during prolonged periods of inactivity, for example on a long-haul flight.
As the lymphoedema develops over time, it can lead to changes in our skin. These changes see the skin become much thicker. The worse the swelling and the longer the lymphoedema has been allowed to progress, the worse the condition of the skin becomes. The reason behind this remains unclear, however scientists believe it’s a response to the pressure building up beneath the skin, and due to the effect of inflammation. Over time, the skins surface can develop a rough appearance which patients have likened to the bark of a tree.
Lymphoedema can be a very challenging condition to deal with, however its key to remember that becoming more active through increasing our everyday movements can be an extremely effective way in helping you manage your lymphoedema. Here at LymphActiv we promote the message that every movement matters, with the aim of shifting the focus from exercise to all types of activity which we can incorporate into our everyday lives.
The LymphActiv Team