Lymphoedema is a transport disorder of the lymphatic system. There is an abnormal buildup of fluid that causes swelling, most often in the arms or legs. The condition develops when lymph vessels or lymph nodes are missing, impaired, damaged or removed.
There are two types of lymphoedema: primary and secondary.
Primary lymphoedema is rare and is caused by the absence of certain lymph vessels at birth, or abnormalities in the lymphatic vessels.
Secondary lymphoedema occurs as a result of a blockage or interruption that alters the flow of lymph through the lymphatic system and can develop from an infection, malignancy, surgery, scar tissue formation, trauma, radiation, or other cancer treatment. Lymphoedema can occur within a few days, months or years after lymphatic injury.
Symptoms of lymphoedema include swelling in the arms, hands, fingers, shoulders or legs. The swelling may occur for the first time after a traumatic event (such as bruises, cuts, sunburn, and sports injuries), after an infection, or in the part of the body that was treated for cancer.
Complete Decongestive Therapy (CDT) treatment of lymphoedema is an individualized plan of care customized for each individual. CDT treatment may include:
- Manual lymphatic drainage, a gentle form of massage to improve circulation of fluid in the lymph vessels. This aims to re-route the lymph flow around the blocked areas into more centrally located healthy lymph vessels.
- Gradient compression bandaging and compression garments to help reduce swelling and improve circulation.
- Exercises to promote circulation, flexibility and strength.
- Education about the lymphatic system, ways to prevent and decrease the risk of infections, how to control swelling, the role of diet and nutrition and hygienic skin and nail care