The normal task of the lymph nodes and the lymphatic system is to purify fluids in the body through the use of white blood cells known as lymphocytes. This removes harmful materials such as bacteria and viruses before the liquid is returned to the bloodstream. Lymphedema occurs when the vessels in the lymphatic system are blocked or removed. The result is that fluid in the body is no longer drained properly, allowing it to accumulate in a specific area. This will cause swelling in the body wherever there is excess liquid.
There are many different causes of lymphedema. The condition occurs because of certain types of infections, as a result of different medications or when an injury damages the lymphatic system. The most common cause is the intentional removal of the lymph nodes in the body because of a mastectomy or because of damage caused by radiation treatments for various forms of cancer. It is also possible that the condition develops due to a congenital defect.
Dealing With Symptoms
The swelling that is associated with lymphedema is painful, disfiguring and debilitating in severe cases. The interstitial fluid needs to be prevented from pooling the arms, legs and other areas of the body. The most common way to encourage drainage is through the use of compression clothing. Individuals with edema in the arms wear lymphedema armsleeves that apply pressure to the area in order to force fluids through the remaining lymphatic system and then into the blood where it will be removed.
Using Wraps For Additional Compression
A lymphedema wrap is used for the same purpose as an armsleeve. The difference is that a lymphedema wrap is capable of being adjusted so that a higher level of pressure is applied to a severely swollen limb. Lymphedema armsleeves generally only supply one level of pressure and are more appropriate for minor to moderate cases.
Effects Of Ignoring The Symptoms
People who choose to ignore the symptoms of the condition risk the development of several different problems. The pooling of the fluids creates an area inside of the body where there is no circulation. This will eventually result in an infection that starts to kill tissue. The outcome is potentially life-threatening and might result in amputation. Ignoring symptoms or skipping treatments will also cause the condition to escalate increasing the amount of pain that is felt and reducing mobility.
Wraps and armsleeves are usually combined with manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) in order to remove fluids from the body. Compression directly after MLD delays fluid build-up if the armsleeves or wraps are worn for long periods of time. A few surgical options exist including the transfer of lymph nodes from other areas of the body. Surgical options are largely effective only for patients that already have a manageable form of lymphedema.