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What Might Cause Lymphedema?

Lymphedema can be an uncomfortable problem that is somewhat difficult to understand at first. The condition is characterized by swelling caused by fluid accumulation, but what is causing fluid to back up in a certain part of the body in the first place?

Dr. Ketan Patel is one of only a few surgeons in the world trained to perform innovative microsurgical procedures to reduce the effects of lymphedema. His compassion in patient care matches his vast experience in treatment protocols. In line with his high standards of care, Dr. Patel exhibits a strong desire to educate his patients on the nuances of lymphedema, including potential causes.

Lymphedema may occur as a primary condition or a secondary condition that originates with another health problem. Regardless, the swelling and fluid accumulation that occur relate to malfunctioning or missing lymph nodes.

Primary Lymphedema

Primary lymphedema may be an inherited or congenital condition in which one or more lymph nodes or vessels do not form correctly. There are several congenital abnormalities that may cause primary lymphedema, including:

  • Hereditary lymphedema I, II, or III. These conditions are classified based on the onset of symptoms.
    • Diagnosed at birth, lymphedema is classified as Noone-Milroy Syndrome.
    • Symptom onset between age 10 and 35 is classified as Lymphedema Praecox Meige.
    • Onset after age 35 is diagnosed as Lymphedema Tarda

Primary lymphedema may relate to:

  • Aplasia: missing lymph nodes, capillaries, or lymph collectors.
  • Hyperplasia: Enlarged lymph collectors or lymphatics.
  • Hypoplasia: Narrowing of the lymph collectors or below-normal number of collectors.

Secondary Lymphedema

Secondary lymphedema is diagnosed when an insult to the lymphatic system occurs prior to symptoms. Possible causes of secondary lymphedema include:

  • Cancer that compresses or blocks lymph vessels.
  • Cancer treatment such as radiation can cause tissue fibrosis in the lymph system.
  • Surgical treatment for cancer may remove or dissect lymph nodes.
  • Traumatic physical injury or burn may affect lymphatic flow.
  • Interventional or surgical procedures may inadvertently diminish lymphatic function.
  • Infection such as acute lymphangitis, inflammation in the lymph vessels, can impair flow.
  • Obesity increases lymphatic load and can also impair flow through pressure on lymph vessels.

Lymphedema symptoms require focused attention. With the right care, it is possible to identify and manage certain factors that trigger swelling. To learn more about lymphedema treatment, contact our office today.

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