Do you have swollen arms and legs? Are they difficult to move around? If so, you might be suffering from a condition known as lymphedema. Lymphedema is a medical condition that causes swelling in the extremities because of dysfunctional lymphatic drainage. This chronic condition should not be ignored because it can lead to severe complications like tissue death. Here at R Shaheen Vascular in Mountain View, CA, we offer different lymphedema treatment options to help you manage the symptoms of the disease.
What Should You Expect From Lymphedema Treatment?
Understand What Lymphedema Is
Lymphedema is a medical condition that causes the limbs to retain fluid, which leads to swelling and an increased risk of infection. The severity of lymphedema can range from mild cases with few symptoms to severe cases where most or all limbs are affected. Lymphedema treatment is different for every individual depending on their needs. It’s, therefore, important to be aware of these treatments so you can make informed decisions about what will work best for your situation.
Expectations After Lymphedema Treatment
Stage 1 or mild lymphedema can be reversed with compression therapy, which can be performed at home using bandages and garments. The condition at this stage is usually temporary and will go away within 4 to 6 weeks. However, for moderate and severe cases of lymphedema, there’s no known cure. Therefore, it’s important first to understand how lymphedema affects your body before going for treatment.
Treatment options include manual lymphatic drainage, exercises that increase range of motion in affected limbs, or surgery that removes parts of the lymph nodes to allow fluid flow. These treatments are to help you manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. You should be able to resume most normal activities after treatment with no pain or swelling depending on how well your body responds to the specific treatment option.
Lymphedema Treatment Options
There are different treatment options for this condition depending on the severity of symptoms. Compression therapy can help reduce fluid retention and restore normal limb volume over time if you have mild lymphedema. For moderate to severe cases, there are different treatments to remove blockages in lymphatic vessels or veins. These treatments don’t cure the disease but rather provide relief to patients struggling with this condition to make living easier. Below are the different treatment therapies available at our clinic:
1) Advanced Compression Therapy
Compression therapy is used to support your lymphatic system so it can get rid of excess fluid on its own. Lymph drainage massage, which includes the use of compression garments or bandages, helps improve fluid circulation and reduce swelling in affected limbs.
During the first stage of treatment, you will need to wear a garment that fits snugly around your arms or legs while also applying pressure throughout the day except when taking shower breaks. After two weeks, you will start wearing light compression garments whenever possible but continue using tighter ones a few times a week.
2) Lymphatic Compression Pump Therapy
This therapy involves using a hand-held device to manually pump lymphedema fluid out of the limb. This treatment is highly effective for lymphedema in arms and legs but less so for those with lymphedema in their chest wall, neck, or abdomen.
3) Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD)
Manual lymphatic drainage is similar to a massage therapy in that it reduces swelling and improves the body’s ability to fight infection. The goal of the treatment is for our therapist or doctor to stimulate specific points on your arms or legs by rubbing them with the fingers to decongest the tissues and move excess lymph and fluid back into the lymphatic vessels.
Patients may need 1-2 hours per session, but if full benefits aren’t observed after a certain period, further treatments should be considered based on personal needs and health conditions.
4) Calf Muscle Pump Exercises
Calf muscle pump exercises are possible options for treatment if you have painful or swollen calves. These movements restore the range of motion in the affected areas, which is vital to help prevent lymphedema from spreading to other regions of your body. It’s recommended that patients do these calf pumps along with manual lymphatic drainage to ensure full benefits after several sessions over a period of time.
5) Diet Changes
There are diet changes you can make at home to help improve your prognosis. For example, adding certain foods that contain anti-inflammatory nutrients like omega-fatty acids or probiotics into your regular meal plan may provide relief from pain and swelling. However, patients need to talk with our doctor before changing anything about their current dietary habits in order to receive personalized advice on what will work best for them.
What Causes Lymphedema?
Lymphedema has many causes. The most common causes are surgery, radiation therapy, or cancer treatment.
Surgery and Radiation Therapy
Surgery and radiation therapy can damage the lymphatic system. If lymphedema occurs after surgery or radiation, it usually appears between 4-6 weeks afterward. Lymphedema resulting from cancer treatment is most common in patients with breast cancer who receive both chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Often, lymphedema develops within 18-24 months of completing radiation therapies but may not appear until many years later.
Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy and Other Drugs
Chemotherapy and other drugs used to treat cancer can damage lymphedema. Chemotherapy is especially harmful because it attacks all actively dividing cells in the body, not just cancerous ones (this means healthy lymph cells are also damaged).
Symptoms of Lymphedema
There are many symptoms associated with this condition. Let’s take a look at the most common ones:
1. An Aching, Heavy Feeling
A general feeling of heaviness or discomfort is often the first sign that something isn’t quite right with your body. This can be caused by too much fluid accumulating in your lower limbs, making them feel swollen.
2. Difficulty with Movement
Walking, standing, or even sitting may become more difficult as time passes. This is because the excess fluid in your legs can make them feel swollen and stiff, so your range of motion decreases.
3. Repeated Skin Infections
Lymphedema can lead to repeated skin infections because of the lack of proper fluid circulation. This is especially true if you have open wounds that are exposed for too long or don’t receive immediate attention when they occur.
4. Hard, Tight Skin
In some cases, the skin on your lower limbs may feel stiff and tight with a shiny texture to it. This is due to fat deposits that accumulate as the result of lymphatic fluid buildup around your muscles and tissues.
5. Wart-Like Growths Developing on the Skin
In some cases, wart-like growths or papillomas may also develop. These are noncancerous lumps that often contain a core of thickened lymphatic tissue with overlying skin changes.
Stages of Lymphedema
Stage I: Fluid Buildup with No Swelling
This is when lymphedema has just begun to develop. You may notice that your legs feel heavy for no reason or find it difficult to complete routine tasks like walking or standing up from a sitting position.
Stage II: Fluid Accumulation and Swelling in Your Legs and Feet
At this stage of lymphedema, you may begin noticing visible signs of swelling around the ankles and lower parts of your body where lymphatic vessels are located. Fluid accumulation in the legs and feet significantly impacts your ability to move around freely because suddenly everything feels so much harder due to the heaviness in your limbs.
Stage III: Permanent Swelling and Hardened Skin
This is when lymphedema has progressed to a more severe stage. There will be permanent swelling throughout your lower limbs, and the skin may become hard or feel waxy because of fat deposits accumulating around muscle tissues in the affected areas.
Stage IV: Elephantiasis and Skin Thickening
By now, lymphedema has caused significant damage to your body tissues by restricting the blood flow out of affected areas due to fluid buildup. This damage often leads to bacterial ulcers that are difficult to heal because they are located below the surface where circulation is limited.
Get A Personalized Lymphedema Treatment Plan Today!
Lymphedema is a chronic condition that can cause many problems if left untreated. If you start to notice lymphedema symptoms like heavy, tiring limbs or difficulty with movement around the lower parts of your body, make sure to visit us for lymphedema treatment at R Shaheen Vascular in Mountain View, CA. Here, we help patients manage their symptoms and live a quality life, so come and let us get started on developing an individualized lymphedema plan just for you!