Understanding And Preventing One Of The Causes Of Swelling – Lymphedema

2011-03-23 | |
Last updated: 2011-03-23

Nothing about a typical functioning sewer is all that attention grabbing – when it is working. However, when a sewer system is not operating properly, it quickly attracts considerable negative attention. Whether it is because the sewer is blocked or simply not draining, a sewer that cannot keep its contents moving is not useful at all.

What Is Edema And Lymphedema?

Although it is somewhat simplistic to say so, the lymphatic system in the human body does serve a similar role to that of the sewer in a city. Within the body, the arteries work to get blood to the cells that need it and the veins work to return the blood back to the circulatory system. However, not all the fluid in our blood gets returned within the veins so one of the jobs of the lymphatic system is to collect this fluid, pump it back toward the heart and back into the circulatory system.

When the lymphatic system is working correctly, we don’t even notice it. Unlike the heartbeat that we can feel along many blood vessels in our body, the pumping action of the lymphatic system happens quietly in the background. In contrast, when the lymphatic system fails to move liquids, a very noticeable condition called Lymphedema results. The result is edema or accumulation of fluids in the tissues that is often seen in the lower legs of patients as dramatic swelling

In situations where Lymphedema occurs, areas of the body, including the lower legs and the arms, will swell with the accumulation of leftover fluids from between the cells. In addition, the storage areas or lymph nodes of the lymphatic system will also swell up. As one would expect, this is disfiguring, debilitating and often rather painful. As there is no real treatment for Lymphedema, those who develop the condition are usually affected for the remainder of their lives.

This means that patients must treat the symptoms on an ongoing basis or live with the discomfort and pain. Given that treatment consists of limb massages performed many times per day as well as compression bandages, most people with the condition will simply suffer or use pain medications. A study by the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center found that people with the condition took no action to treat the symptoms more than 60% of the time. This is because the symptoms of the condition are so intrusive to daily living.

Who Is Affected By The Swelling And Fluid Accumulation Of Lymphedema?

Worldwide, more than 120 million people suffer from Lymphedema. The condition has been recognized for several hundred years, but is still understood relatively poorly. What is known about the condition is that genetic factors can occur to make the lymphatic system ineffective. Recent research from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that at least one gene mutation can prevent the nerve signals that cause the pumping action of the lymphatic system. Without working pumps, the fluid just accumulates in the tissues.

What is also known about Lymphedema is that it can occur as a result of cancer treatments. In particular, as many as 70% of women who undergo treatment for breast cancer will develop the condition. In some cases, it can occur as many as 10 to 15 years after breast cancer has been treated, although normally it develops within 3 years of treatment. The condition also occurs for some people treated surgically for skin cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer.

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Category: Health Risks, Medical Treatment, Symptom Information

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