Home | What is Lymphedema and How Do I Know if I Need Treatment?

What is Lymphedema and How Do I Know if I Need Treatment?

iStock 487618977 When we think about staying healthy, we may consider the big picture of eating healthy for heart health and weight management. Lymphedema is a condition that is hardly ever at the forefront of a person’s mind, even when maybe it should be. This chronic clinical condition is characterized by a disruption in the flow of lymphatic circulation in one part of the body. Lymphatic circulation relies on dozens of tiny organs called lymph nodes. These nodes work in conjunction with numerous lymph vessels to carry lymph fluid through the body. Lymph fluid contains glucose, fats, proteins, and salts. It also contains white blood cells when needed to do “clean up work” to fight off illness or infection. 

Edema is a term that describes swelling. So, lymphedema describes swelling that relates to the lymph system. It is not swelling in a lymph node but swelling in a limb, usually, that occurs when lymph fluid is not circulating as it should. This chronic condition has several contributing factors. The most common is surgery. People who have one or more lymph nodes treated or removed in the treatment of another condition, such as breast cancer, have a chance of developing lymphedema. Historically, the condition has only been manageable with clinical intervention. Today, exciting new surgical techniques are offering promising results for correction.  

Symptoms of Lymphedema

It can be difficult to get the most advanced treatment for lymphedema. Patients may have to do their homework; first, to get an accurate diagnosis, then, to discover what management strategies work best for them and, then, if no strategies are optimal, to find a physician like Dr. Patel who is trained in surgical interventions for lymphedema. 

To start in the right direction, patients must first recognize the signs of lymphedema. They include:

  • A sense of fullness, weakness, or tightness in an arm or leg.
  • Fullness or tightness in the chest or armpit.
  • Aching or pain in an arm or leg.
  • Clothing fits tight around an arm or leg.
  • Rings appear on the skin of an arm or leg.

The severity of symptoms may relate to the stage of lymphedema a person has. These range from mild, in which swelling can resolve with elevation to severe, in which the affected limb looks deformed. We are proud to offer comprehensive care for patients with lymphedema. To learn more or schedule an appointment with lymphedema specialist Dr. Ketan Patel, contact Keck Medicine of USC.

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