You might be wondering what the word “Lymphedema” means, but it’s actually more common than you realize, as millions of individuals from all over the world suffer from this condition that causes excess fluid build-up in the lymph vessels, resulting in localized swelling.

Who’s at Risk?

You have a stronger likelihood of developing lymphedema if you’ve been diagnosed with certain cancers, such as prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer and melanoma, and that risk increases exponentially if you’ve ever been treated for head or neck cancer. You can also develop lymphedema if you’ve ever suffered from any kind of physical trauma. Children can also develop lymphatic diseases, which can be debilitating. By recognizing World Lymphedema Day, it is the hope that we will be able to not only shine a light on this and other lymphatic diseases, but to also put an end to the suffering through better research and making more treatment options available to patients.

What is the Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system is part of your immune system made up of a series of thin tubes known as lymphatic vessels. Not only does the lymphatic system help to maintain the balance of fluid in different parts of your body, but it also helps the body ward off infection.

What is Lymphedema and How Do I Prevent It?

As mentioned, lymphedema is a chronic condition that causes certain parts of the body to swell. Lymphedema can be hereditary (meaning you are more at risk of developing it if an immediately family member also has the same condition), or you can develop it after having a surgical procedure, cancer treatment (such as radiation), infection, or physical trauma. If hereditary, this condition often occurs in the lower extremities (such as the legs), but can also develop in other areas, such as the abdomen, face, and neck. If you have any of the aforementioned risk factors, it’s important to remain vigilant – especially during the first 3 years of any surgery or radiation therapy. If 3 years have passed and you’ve not been diagnose with lymphedema or any other lymphatic disease, your risk decreases but still remains.

Diagnosing Lymphedema

Based on signs and symptoms, doctors may refer patients for medical imaging tests to take a closer look at the lymph nodes. Common tests used include MRI scans, CT scans, or Doppler ultrasounds. These tests produce high-resolution images of the lymph notes and can reveal any blockages or abnormalities in the lymphatic system.

Treating Lymphedema

Unfortunately there is no cure for lymphedema. However, Dr. Ali Ghahary says there are certain things you can do to reduce the symptoms – such as controlling the swelling and pain. Physical activity is not only important for your overall health, but light exercise can also help encourage lymph fluid to drain which may make it easier to move the affected limb or limbs. Keeping the affected area bandaged (or compressed using a special sleeve) can also encourage lymph fluid to flow properly. Patients may also find massage therapy beneficial.