Lymphedema: What you Need to Know

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Do you have swelling in your limbs and extremities that causes you pain? Are you unsure of what the cause is or how to fix it? You may be suffering from lymphedema. This blog will look at the ins and outs of lymphedema and guide you through the basics all the way to the treatments!

What is Lymphedema?

Lymphedema begins as oedema which is swelling that is caused by the accumulation of fluids. These fluids can be seen and felt. This accumulation occurs when the lymphatic system, a circulatory organ, is not properly balancing proteins and the volume of fluid space. This means that the amount of fluid that is staying in the area is more than what is being reabsorbed back into the circulation. Often times there is an accumulation of fluid called oedemas and these form as a system of another issue or disease such as renal, hepatogenic, and cardiac issues.

How Does the Lymphatic System Work?

The lymphatic system works in a similar fashion to veins. Lymph vessels are made up of valves that control with way fluid can flow. The first lymph vessel contains a lymph. From this vessel, the lymph flows to the pre-collectors. From the pre-collectors the lymph moves on to the collectors and then into the regional lymph nodes. The quantity as well as composition of the initial lymph changes when water is absorbed by the veins.

But why does lymphedema happen? Lymphedema happens when the lymph formation, transportation of the lymph, and the concentration of the lymph are disturbed. This can be due to an underlying disease, mechanical insufficiency of the lymphatic system, or a combination of the two.

The Types of Lymphedema

There are different types of lymphedema, including primary lymphedema and secondary lymphedema.

Primary Lymphedema

There are many different internal reasons within the lymphatic system that can lead to primary lymphedema. One of the reasons that primary lymphedema occurs is that there are not enough lymph vessels present or that the existing vessels are just too narrow. This means that the lymph cannot transport enough of the load to ensure swelling does not occur.

Secondary Lymphedema

Injuries to even a healthy lymphatic system can result in lasting damage that can cause secondary lymphedema. One of the most common causes is the treatment of malignant tumours. This is due to the fact that cancer cells tend to travel within the lymph vessels to the closest lymph nodes. Once they arrive in the lymph nodes they form metastases which means that not only does the tumour have to be removed, but the lymph nodes in the area of the tumour have to be removed as well. When the lymph nodes are removed, the drainage of the lymph is interrupted. Although the body will try to handle the excess fluid by expanding lymph vessels, the removal can still lead to excess fluid and therefore lymphedema because lymph nodes can not grow back.

Lymphedema Treatments

There are different treatment methods available for those who have lymphedema. A rule of thumb is that the quicker a treatment for any type of lymphedema is started, the better!

What is Complex Decongestive Physiotherapy?

Complex Decongestive Physiotherapy is a combined form of treatment with two different phases. Both phases include four elements that lead to optimal success when used in conjunction. The four elements of Complex Decongestive Physiotherapy are:

  • Skin care
  • Manual lymph drainage (ML)
  • Compression therapy
  • Exercise therapy

These treatment methods, although different, help reduce the symptoms of lymphedema that the patient is experiencing.

Skin Care

Once lymphedema has begun, skin care becomes very important. This is because with lymphedema the skin becomes much more susceptible to inflammation and infection. Infections in all cases are not good, but can be very dangerous when accompanied by lymphedema. We recommend performing skin care in the mornings and evenings to ensure that your skin remains healthy, intact, and protected from outside germs!

Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)

Lymph can be moved out of certain areas in the skin with the assistance of manual lymph drainage. This type of drainage can help the lymph be transported away by other lymphatic vessels that are healthy. By performing manual lymph drainage in healthy areas, a suction effect can begin which will promote the pumping function of the lymph vessels. This can bring excess lymph to other areas of the body instead of the swelling occurring in one targeted area.

Compression Therapy

Once the manual lymph drainage has helped to increase the flow of lymph and more fluid has moved into the lymph capillaries, compression therapy can begin. This is what the team at ADAPT Home Health Care specializes in! Compression garments are custom made for the individual to provide ideal external pressure that helps the fluid to continuously drain into the lymphatic vessels and veins.

One of the ways to decrease the build up of lymph fluids is to ensure that the fluid is traveling in the proper direction. This means that it need to be traveling from the heart to the arteries and so on. Compression stockings increase the interstitial pressure which helps optimize the fluid balance between the three elements:

  • Blood capillaries
  • Interstitial space
  • Initial lymph vessels

The compression must also work with the physiological pressure in the leg veins. This means that the compression must decrease gradually from the ankle to the calf as well as from the thigh to the groin. ADAPT Home Health Care focuses on garments, wraps, and we are 1 of 2 government approved vendors in Mississauga and the only one in Brampton!

Exercise Therapy                                                                            

Another important part of Complex Decongestive Physiotherapy is exercise. All exercise therapy should be performed with the custom compression stockings. These stocking will help support the pumping of the muscle! When compression therapy is combined with avoiding extended periods of immobility, chronic venous insufficiency can often be avoided.

Why Choose ADAPT Home Health Care?

At ADAPT Home Health Care, we have educated specialists on staff that have received formal training to help you with your lymphedema. Our team has kinesiologist background specialists who are trained to use the necessary equipment to ensure your compression stockings are doing their job. The remainder of our staff and team have training as well to assist you! We know the pain that you are in and we want to provide you with the proper health care products to ensure that you are comfortable and that your condition will improve and not worsen. Compression stockings for example can cause more harm than good if they are not properly fitted and used correctly!

We have three locations in the Greater Toronto Area to better assist you! Call us or contact us online today to learn more about what we can do to help improve your everyday life!

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