Sometimes misdiagnosed as elephantiasis, lymphedema should not be taken lightly. It is also referred to as lymphatic obstruction, which may be classified into primary and secondary. Basically though, lymphedema occurs when the soft tissues of your body swell because of fluid retention. These soft tissues are located at the arm, legs and even the groin. The lymphatic system is responsible for collecting, filtering and draining intestinal fluid from the body. If this is impaired, damaged or compromised, the tissues retain the lymph fluid causing swelling in the affected area,.
Primary lymphedema is something you are born with. It is hereditary. You may lack lymph nodes or have too many lymphatic vessels that don’t function properly. Usually, the disease will develop during adolescence when the swelling becomes apparent. Developing lymphedema during infancy is quite rare though possible. This disease is called Milroy’s disease.
On the other hand, secondary lymphedema happens when surgery, medication or infection injures or impairs your lymphatic system. This is the most common form of lymphedema and can be seen in both men and women. People who have undergone surgery or radiation treatment for breast and colon cancer are prone to lymphedema. In tropical regions, lymphedema can occur through parasitic infections known as filiarasis. This is also considered under the second type of lymphedema which is common also in African countries.
Though lymphedema does not have a cure, it can be treated to prevent it from worsening. Some people however are not that lucky since they develop chronic lymphedema. This form of lymphedema can last a lifetime and is rather difficult to treat. Others may develop lymphangitis which is a severe form of the disease. This can be caused by even the tiniest cut on an affected area that becomes infected. Frequent infections can lead to tissue hardening called fibrosis. Once this happens, it becomes difficult to move the affected limb and the person becomes more prone to infection.
Though it’s hard to determine lymphedema especially at its early stages there are symptoms that you can look out for. These include fatigue, heavy and aching limbs, less muscle flexibility, tightening of shoes or rings on fingers.
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