Lymphedema

(Primary Lymphedema; Secondary Lymphedema)

Definition

The lymph system is a series of organs, vessels, nodes, and fluids. This system creates and carries fluids that play an important role in the immune system and maintaining the balance of fluids in the tissue. Lymphedema is a build up of fluid normally transported by the lymph system. The fluid build up leads to swelling in the affected area. While lymphedema occurs most often in the arms and legs, it can eventually spread to the core of the body and head. Lymphedema can range from mild swelling to swelling that dramatically increases the size of the limb and causes skin discoloration.
Damaged Lymph Nodes
damaged lymph
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Causes

Lymphedema is caused by defect, damage, or infection of an area in the lymph system. Primary lymphedema is caused by defects of the lymph nodes or lymph vessels. The structures may be missing or may not work properly. Though the defect are present from birth, lymphedema may not develop until later in life. Conditions associated with primary lymphedema include:
  • Milroy’s disease
  • Meige disease
Secondary lymphedema develops when there is injury, infection, or nearby growth that blocks the flow of fluids in the lymph nodes or lymph vessels. It may be caused by medical conditions, medical treatments, or trauma.
Planned Lymph Removal for Cancer Treatment
lymph nodes to be removed
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Risk Factors

Lymphedema is more common in older adults. Medical treatments or conditions that may increase your risk of lymphedema include:
  • Surgery that includes the removal of lymph nodes—common in cancer-related surgeries
  • Radiation treatment for cancer
  • Cancer
  • Infections—especially infections caused by parasites such as filariasis
  • Burns
  • Obesity—may increase risk of lymphedema after breast cancer surgery
  • Immobility

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